Jun 27, 2012
Interview with Venice Beach Biennial artist Albert Culbertson.
How long have you been selling your work on the boardwalk?
I moved here and started selling my work on the boardwalk in November 1993.
How have you seen it change in that time?
When I was first here nothing could legally be sold. We had to take the city of L.A. to court on our First Amendment rights. That was a big deal and made things legal for artists. Over time a bunch of “entrepreneurs,” as I like to call them, came here and decided to turn the place into a flea market, which is understandable. Why not set up shop on the world’s most valuable real estate for free? The recent ordinance is trying to give it back over to more first amendment type of activities. There’s always politics going on here.
Tell us about your work.
I like burning images into wood. I’m mostly a draftsman, as opposed to a painter. About thirty years ago, my daughter and I would burn images with a magnifying glass and sunlight. That’s the way I’ve been doing it for the past couple decades. For the last twelve years I’ve worked with a partner, Indira Burgos. We share an interest in cultural symbology and sustainable resources. Since May we’ve also been using a CO2 laser to burn into the wood. Using solar energy is a very time-consuming process, and quite frankly, the Venice boardwalk is not a big money type of place. You come here, get a 99-cent slice of pizza, and you leave. You watch the freak show all day.
Can you tell tourists from locals?
Yes, pretty much. One way to judge a potential buyer—especially when I’m working with my head down—is to check out their shoes. And when people aren’t carrying bags, you know you’re not going to make any sales. That means the stores aren’t selling anything either. You have to figure out a way to cater to the general public, which is who we cater to out here.
What brought you to Venice originally?
The weather. When I threw my hands up and said “I don’t want to do anything in life besides make art,” I had to figure out where to do that without freezing to death. What I like about being a boardwalk artist is that my art goes all over the world. I don’t have to go anywhere because the world walks in front of me. I have a piece of work in a helicopter in Cambodia… Picasso can’t say that.
May 24, 2012
Venice boardwalk, Venice, CA
Interview conducted by Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Filed under: Venice Beach Biennial