Ka Boom! Art Toy Gallery Is Great

Ka Boom! Art Toy Gallery owner Tracy Otero is the first to call himself a hoarder, but he's also a businessman: He picks up rare and obscure items from antique stores, thrift shops and garage sales, then sells them via his eBay store. It's all on display at Ka Boom!, a tiny loft hidden within an industrial street across from the Santa Ana train station. In his collection right now are wide-eyed porcelain puppy statuettes, H.R. Pufnstuf dolls, records, guitars, retro tchotchkes, even salvaged neon signs.

Besides being a toy chest of quirky objects, Ka Boom! hosts exhibitions and gallery shows at which Otero and other local artists display their work. In the three years he's lived in SanTana, Otero says, he has found the art scene engaging. “People are more welcoming here than other communities,” Otero says. “I'm amazed at how artists here have just taken me in.”

Otero moved from Los Angeles to Orange County in 2001, then to SanTana in 2012. He's been slinging classic toys and art since his punks days in 1978, when he played for bands including Sludge and the Stains. But after a midlife crisis, a divorce and becoming a stay-at-home dad, Otero decided to start creating. His paintings switch from clean, minimal skulls outlined with vibrant colors to wild, layered graffiti works hearkening back to his prime influences: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso.

The loft is also a shrine to punk, with a Darby Crash memorial and the self-anointed Punk Rock Museum, which holds the largest collection of punk rock 8-tracks, a belt worn by Johnny Thunders, a microphone used by Crash, a piece of a guitar used by Iggy Pop and other ephemera.

“I'm just doing this for the same reason other people open businesses,” Otero says. “You're doing what you want. You're living your dream.”

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