The Audacity of Hope
For Shepard Fairey's artistic enterprises, Yeh Studio boldly updates a 1920's building in Los Angeles
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Shepard Fairey is one busy guy. The onetime skateboard and street artist now heads up a full-fledged operation. A business, if you will. His creative agency, Studio Number One, counts among its clients such names as Saks Fifth Avenue, Honda Motor Co., and Red Bull. His art factory, named for his street tag, Obey Giant Art, generates graphics, prints for a namesake clothing line, fine art, and most famously posters including the ones featuring President Barack Obama. Recently, Fairey has added gallerist to his CV with Subliminal Projects, where he plans to oversee eight shows yearly. All three efforts now occupy the Los Angeles command central that he and his staff of 20, including wife and COO Amanda, call their professional home.
The Mediterranean-style 1920's building in hipster Echo Park underwent a massive renovation by the father-and-son team of Raymond and Bryant Yeh. Why relative unknowns when Fairey could have had his pick of bolder-faced names? Call it real-estate kismet. Having found the 8,500-square-foot two-story location, almost three times the size of previous quarters in the landmark Wiltern Theatre, Fairey was scouting the neighborhood when he happened upon Yeh Studio's storefront space. A friendly chat resulted in a bona fide commission.
Bryant Yeh recalls the Fairey building when it was a claustrophobic warren of erstwhile law offices on two unconnected floors. Fairey, for his part, describes a scene of "faux molding and tacky wood paneling." Yet the artist, who calls himself a "visual reactionary able to channel things with a different focus," saw the potential: a pair of open studios upstairs, the gallery and print storage below, and a conference room on each level. He envisioned a space "looking reasonably resolved on little money," and the architects embraced the challenge as well as what Bryant Yeh calls the "rock 'n' roll attitude."
When you walk in today and see the interior's focal point, a stunningly simple birch-plywood stairway capped by a crystal chandelier the lawyers had left behind, what's invisible is the great deal of preliminary work the Yehs put in. Walls came down to admit more daylight and clean up the background. So did the dropped ceiling, which revealed timber beams and a 9½-foot-high volume. Existing brick was sandblasted, cleaned, and sealed, ironwork simplified, and vaulted hallways repaired. The walls that remained were plastered and painted white in preparation for the hanging of artwork everywhere. As for the gallery proper, it was built as "two viewing boxes," Bryant Yeh says, with a separate Sunset Boulevard entry painted Fairey's signature glossy red.
Going for refined but decidedly not luxe, the architects made choices in tune with Fairey's sense of environmental responsibility and his request that "the industrial side of materials show." Flooring of sustainable Douglas fir plywood "harks back to skateboard ramps," he says. Solid Douglas fir frames one of the conference room's sliding doors; conference tables and the bookshelves organizing his copious reference library are all cabinet-grade fir. Then the Yehs got down to the custom details. "Besides wrapping our heads around the multifunction issues, this was a project that allowed us to be really creative," Raymond Yeh notes. After floor levels were raised, the joists left over yielded enough Douglas fir for the three benches in the gallery, plus one in the library—Bryant Yeh's personal artistic statement. Taking cues from the Suprematist movement, he routed out a pattern from the wood, filled in the crisscrossing lines with crimson resin, and hand-waxed the surface. Eventually, he plans to market similar semi-custom items based on computer-generated patterns.
The Yehs show their hand once again with desks and mobile storage units designed for the graphics studio and the art-crammed office that Fairey shares with three assistants. Tops are slabs of the ubiquitous Douglas fir plywood, while fronts are weathered sheet steel, and frames are steel square tube stock. Two tables in the graphics studio have built-in light boxes for stenciling, one of the mediums favored by the Fairey art factory.
Speaking of the team as a whole—Fairey credits all as artists and gives their work its due. Staff creations line the walls, along with his own pieces and those in his personal collection. In Fairey's world, art's not limited to a gallery.
Photography by Art Gray.
PROJECT TEAM HA-VI TRAN; CASEY BENITO; KELLY ANDERSON; THARATHORN SUKSIRI: YEH STUDIO. GORDON L. POLON CONSULTING ENGINEERS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. ART OF BUILDING: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT HERMAN MILLER: CHAIRS (OFFICE, CONFERENCE ROOM, STUDIO). LEVI BREWSTER: CUSTOM BENCHES (GALLERY), METALWORK. W.A.C. LIGHTING: TRACK LIGHTING (GALLERY, CONFERENCE ROOM). LIGHTOLIER: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES (ENTRY, LIBRARY, STUDIO). BARNACLE BROTHERS: CUSTOM BENCH (LIBRARY). THROUGHOUT ROYAL PLYWOOD COMPANY: LUMBER SUPPLIER. BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT.