Downtown Art Walk at it’s peak and I’m pressing through the multitude searching for my Interview, on a dual mission loaded with bottles of finer wine; emergency delivery for a friend’s Gallery prematurely run dry. Swarmed by ‘art’ aficionados thirsting to know where the booty will wind up uncorked.
Gees, what a freaking Carnival this scene’s become! Can’t EVEN squeeze through to find its most popular sideshow attraction, Art Walk’s ORIGINAL, street Artisan, who’s alas not in his usual spot along formerly “Skid,” cum “Gallery” Row.
“EXCU-U-SE ME! Has anybody seen,” I hesitate to state the obvious. Too often a disability defines an entire personality. “…Seen the Painter who, uh, does those surreal, three dimensional abstracts imbedded with objects?”
“You mean that whacky dude IN THE WHEELCHAIR?” someone responds.
Douglas La Marche hasn’t missed a single Art Walk since its start 3 years ago. For months, he was the SOLE real-time Painter on the Main thoroughfare. Back when a much scarcer number of patrons scurried between the few gaping Galleries, escaping covetous itinerants begging remnants of champagne flutes and rissoto-stuffed Dixie cups. But gradually the streets filled with live acts mimicking La Marche; poets, painters, musicians, comedians to the point where now there’s more action outdoors than in. La Marche thereby secured his part in history among Downtown Art Walk’s prophetic Kingpins.
Turns out, La Marche is holding court at a local gallery. Passionately reciting his poetry to his paintings, his audience hanging on every word. At his last stroke, final pause, they break out in loud applause, cheers, some tears. La Marche’s art is flying off the walls even now Gallery ensconced beyond the pitiful misperception of inner-city homelessness, even in a flat economy, La Marche sales are, as always, on fire!
Yet I must ask him. “What would you say to any of THEY who may suggest your high sales ratio is owed to pity?”
“Whatever works!” La Marche laughs. “I used to think I was a con-artist,” he says, “Because I’m so resourceful.” He leans in conspiratorially, “We’re all participating in a big hoax. Commercial art is all contrived.”
“There’s really no such thing as Art. If there is it is life itself.”
We’re way, way the hell out in the boonies, a stark, sunny place called Panorama City, photographer Rick Mendoza and I, at La Marche’s Studio. Frankly, I’m shocked at La Marche’s sheer DRIVE to deliver his art, his message in PERSON all over LA from HERE. So much for excuses, for being wheelchair, anything “bound.” Only now does it dawn on me I’ve met La Marche before Art Walk, before Bedlam, before idiotically assuming he conveniently lived Downtown, perhaps at the Mission.
La Marche was THAT painter at Universal City Walk, IN THE WHEELCHAIR, ten years hence. Lots of ‘WALKS.’ Hmmm. Not too forbidding for La Marche’s chair. “Wait, didn’t I hear about you on the Paramount Pictures lot, too?”
“Yeah, I snuck in. Did a little show and tell for a crowd of suits. They went wild, bought out my entire stock.” La Marche sighs with a grin.
As prolific as La Marche is, he’s tracked 1350 paintings the past 4 years since keeping his “Cattle Log” album, he reinvests all his earnings back into his traveling show. The supplies, the gobs and GOBS of paint, the fixtures, easels, lights, he’s a one-man Gallery in a ramp van TO GO!
“My largest collections are at gas stations,” La Marche concedes. “When I can’t afford gas I swap paintings for it.” La Marche also rolls to swap meets, garage sales, flea markets, antique shops…wherever he might discover a rare, exotic treasure to recycle as the centerpiece of a La Marche Masterpiece.
The tour de force of La Marche’s own space is a treat. First, a surprise healing experience: La Marche demonstrates an inventive, interactive piece he created to guide others through stages of grief or trauma. His purpose is, “To magnify, focus and intensify the therapeutic aspects of the design on the viewer.” The piece uses a kaleidoscope view of La Marche designs to “break-up pre-verbal memories or those that can’t be accessed by any other means on a chemical level.” La Marche believes and has been told this art, poetry and music treasure trove has saved lives, not to mention his own.
Then, there’s the “Holaportal” a prototype La Marche created with his scientist/inventor friend, David Petite.
“Artists often precede scientific breakthroughs with images that represent those breakthroughs because mankind is a visually thinking creature. We cannot conceive of anything we cannot visualize,” La Marche states. La Marche uses the visual precedent of Jackson Pollack’s art and ‘Chaos Theory’ as an example of what he and Petite hope to achieve with the “Holaportal” copyright.
I slip on a pair of 3D glasses and I’m flabbergasted. “OK, Rick, did you drop acid in my coffee earlier?” A simple La Marche mural transforms into a 3, maybe 4, dimensional holographic spectacle. It magically appears infinite in shape and size, shifting at every viewing angle. The “Holaportal” prototype subject is a slithering serpentine, La Marche representation of the first and last Biblical prophecy. “Wow!”
La Marche also shares his headspace letting me graze on knowledge hard earned through his vast studies in many fields; art history, science, science fiction, philosophy, psychology.
Foremost, I come away with something I suppose every aspiring artist ought know.
“That’s ME!” La Marche exclaims, describing one of his more traditional works most dear to him. And, that other one on the next wall, “That’s ME!” he says. And now, pointing out a different one, “THAT’S me!”
There’s no contradiction in this, however unique from the other each piece is undoubtedly ‘A La Marche.’ I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling this work by anyone else. Good Rick’s taking lots of pics, I’m thinking. This is far beyond my art reference vocabulary.
“My work is my own attempt to reinvent Art in my own way,” La Marche affirms.
Like himself, La Marche’s works are volcanically exuberant. They erupt into space, bursting, bubbling, gushing, spewing forth swathed treasures, tokens, gifts from La Marche’s joyous spirit, heavy heart, and enriched, original mind. PURE genius.
One sentence: “OFF THE WALL.”
When La Marche was a kid named “Doug” he was nicknamed “Pidougio” because of his affinity for Picasso. “The biggest artistic influence on my life,” he says. “Picasso gave everyone permission to do things their own way,” he adds emphatically. “For four hundred years the French schools made the greatest Artists in the world do everything meticulously a certain way. Any deviation of it and you failed. And do we remember any of them? No, we only remember the ones like Matisse and Picasso who were kicked out.”
In his early teens La Marche was already on track toward becoming a professional Artist, apprenticing with a stain glass window Master. Then, at the age of 16, an unexpected traumatic turn. Hiking in Eden Canyon in Pasadena with a group of friends. “We were way, way where we shouldn’t have been,” La Marche says. There was a quarrel among the hiking group. La Marche was struggling internally already with a troubled family life, anxious his parents were soon to divorce. “When I read ‘The Cain Mutiny,'” says La Marche, “I saw my dad as ‘Captain Bly.'”
La Marche fled the contentious hikers to find his own way back home where he cleaned the house every night spic and span, trying to fend off anything that might set off “Bly” and another horrific argument between his parents. Ultimately, La Marche would forgive his dad after learning unknown truths about his father’s childhood. But that fateful day, La Marche was in a conflicted state charging down the canyon.
“I took a short cut,” he explains. The narrow trail suddenly vanished beneath him. La Marche had slipped from the cliff, fallen 100 feet. He recalls such excruciating pain, “I wanted to hit myself over the head with a rock. Go ahead and knock myself out to stop the torment. I was going unconscious as it was. But I knew if I closed my eyes it would be for the last time. I’d never open them.”
It would be 3 hours before La Marche was found. He shouted out continuously for help. He couldn’t use his legs then, not ever again. His legs were shattered in 100 places, his spinal cord forever severed.
Six weeks later in intensive care, a priest was praying over La Marche, giving him his last rites. This was the same priest who’d had an affair with his mother, a stunningly beautiful woman who’d been head cheerleader and valedictorian at Brown College.
La Marche despised the priest so intensely he held the wafer in his mouth plotting for the precise moment to spit it out at the reverend. At last, La Marche says hoarsely, head bowed, “I was too afraid of him.”
Instead, La Marche gulped back the only morsel of solid ‘food’ he’d been able to ingest since the accident.
“What really brought me to my senses then,” La Marche recounts, “Was the hospital Janitor. He comes in mopping up my vomit and says, ‘Man, I don’t blame ya. If I couldn’t have sex, I’d be wishin’ I’s dead, too!'”
“Everyone else was tiptoeing around, the Janitor was being real from his perspective,” La Marche explains. La Marche chose not to let himself waste away, to die and made a ‘miraculous’ recovery.
Before coming into a full acceptance of his physical condition, La Marche endured dark years of mourning and self-blame. He reinvented himself through his Art. La Marche made colorless, though skillful, black and white etchings those years before finally awakening to himself and his unique style.
“Today I wouldn’t change who I am, what I’ve learned, what I know and have become for anyone.”
La Marche credits Art as his ultimate salvation. And God. “God’s love is expressed throughout all of creation,” he says.
“The extent to which I am able to express and show appreciation for the expression of God’s love is the extent to which I am an Artist.”