Art supplies can be repurchased, but when artists’ studios are destroyed, it is impossible to recreate the works.
That’s why 11 local artists are suing the owners of the three-story commercial building in the DTLA, which burned down on June 8, 2021. The lawsuit claims that they were negligent in preventing the fire that required more than 150 firefighters to extinguish and involved an explosion and massive ball of flames.
Owned by L for Lofts LLC, the building was destroyed in the fire, which resulted in the massive loss of sculptures, murals, paintings, equipment, documentation and personal mementos.
“Buildings like this don’t suddenly catch fire and burn to the ground without at least neglect,” said Cyrus Shahriari, the attorney representing the artists.
“We believe, based on what my clients have observed in their construction experience, that there were not adequate fire prevention measures.”
L for Lofts LLC did not respond to a request for comment.
Shahriari said the artists noted a lack of working fire sprinklers, proper fire extinguishers, or fire doors. They don’t believe the walls were made of non-flammable material.
He said several artists have raised concerns with the management company after a 2016 fire in Oakland destroyed the artists’ studios.
“This is a place where it was foreseeable that this type of accident could happen or that there was a risk of fire,” said Shahriari.
“There are basic fire requirements and codes that should have been followed and we don’t believe they were.”
Artists say their losses are immeasurable.
Multimedia artist Paul Juno spent seven years working in his Little Tokyo Art Complex studio. A self-proclaimed workaholic, he paints every day. His study of him, he said, was a place where he poured his soul into him. As an artist experimenting with his style, he said some paintings take years to create, so he always has a lot of work going on.
“Words cannot even come to mind of how devastating it is to lose stuff like that,” Juno said. “You can’t really do those things again.”
A student of art history, he said artists always look at their early works. Galleries host retrospectives so that people can compare career years.
This will never be possible for any of these artists.
“I have lost 10 to 12 years of work,” Juno said. “That stuff is gone forever. I told myself that I would photograph him once I left the studio. Now of course I’ll never have the chance to do that. “
He called his archived works “a visual savings account”. It isn’t selling them now, but there may be a market for it in the future.
“I can help my future self with the things I propose,” said Juno. “It’s one of those things you do as a younger artist. Now I have to start all over again. I put everything in that studio. My studio was overflowing to the brim. “
He said some of the pieces were collaborations with other visiting artists; moments she can’t relive.
“To say it’s devastating is to put it lightly,” Juno said. “It’s one of those things that causes panic attacks. I have nightmares where my house is on fire. “
Surge Witron creates large abstract gestural paintings in acrylic and has had two studios in the building for the past six years.
“I’ve lost a whole body of work, not just materials, but an archive of artwork, research and indicators of things I’ve done in my art practice,” Witron said. “It is painful to think that I have nothing to show because I lost about nine years of work to the fire.”
Witron, who moved into this studio soon after finishing graduate school, had suffered two more losses just before the fire. In 2020, one of his grandparents died of COVID-19. Then, in the months before the fire, he lost his other grandfather.
“It was just this constant cycle of losing and losing,” Witron said. “I couldn’t get over the pain. I had to seek therapy ”.
The studio space represented the community of Witron and the other artists who worked there.
“It was a very common space,” Witron said. “As artists we are committed to each other. It allows us to really digress from our work and really see the moments when you get stuck or are constantly tweaking. Having these conversations with other artists in the community space allows you to carry your work forward. It’s something I lost for not being there. “
Like Juno, she said she cannot examine her work because her early pieces from her 20s are gone.
The effects are profound. Witron said he can’t work him in his new space, as he’s still struggling with anxiety and loss. He wants to see responsibility for what happened.
The Little Tokyo art studio was Emily Dobbs’ first studio. In 2021 she had just finished a show called “Identity Dysmorphia” about a theory she held about displaced people and their cultural background. All that work was destroyed. For the next eight months she stopped making art because she too feared she would disappear.
He had artwork dating back to 2007 and memories dating back to when he was 7 years old. Worse, she lost the only things she had from her biological parents who died in the crash of Korean Air Flight 801 in 1997.
“When I learned that my birth parents were dead, I was numb, I couldn’t fully react,” Dobbs said. “(Losing the studio) was equivalent to the feeling of losing my parents, because that was all I created for myself. This isn’t just work, objects, or money loss. This is a sentimental value. This is our time. These are our thoughts, history, identity, memories, all in this place. The creative life force of what we might have there vanished overnight. “
Hedy Torres is a Mexican immigrant who works as a homeless advocate. She had just moved into the studio in March 2021, but she has lost five years of paintings, a projector and many materials. She had a series she was going to show focused on people having a homeless experience. She has lost everything but a painting that was in her apartment in her house.
“Remembering that night makes me want to cry. It really hurts that bad, ”Torres said.
He found out about the fire in an email. She took a break from work to go to the building. The first thing she noticed was that the roof was gone. Any hope that things would be saved from the building vanished.
“Everything was closed and there were still a lot of fire trucks,” Torres said. “He was super shocking.”
Jesse Fregozo’s art focuses on the struggles of marginalized communities. He said he took him down the darkest path in his life than him.
“Even though my house is on fire, it’s just material stuff,” Fregozo said. “But an art studio is much more intimate. It’s like the things you can’t do again. Work will never be the same “.
He spent much of his time quarantined in his studio creating art and teaching art workshops electronically from that space.
Fregozo built his portfolio. He has archived his art of himself, which he recalled to elementary school. Although he has some digital copies of his work, 98% have completely disappeared.