The artist’s dream

Topanga painter James Mathers calls himself "a random piece of the L.A. art underground."

Lower Topanga draws artists of all kinds.

By Austen Tate/Special to The Malibu Times

“What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community” -T.S. Eliot.

Near the mouth of Topanga creek where Topanga Boulevard empties out onto the Pacific Coast Highway, hidden in the canyon filled with bamboo and yucca trees, lie the grounds of the “compound.” The Rodeo Grounds was once a meeting place for the Chumash Indians and is now home to a community fighting to keep its art alive and its homes.

Meet the “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove” (the name of a book of poetry published by the community members): poets, painters, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and eco-conscious visionaries with a mystical flavor. The Lower Topanga community continues past the fork in the road and to the left a door with an old decaying rowing oar stamped Neptune. Inside, winds breeze by the Airstream trailer, an outhouse, old shacks now vacant, through the campfire where artists and their ancestors meet. Past the performance stage to the left, is a garage where tribal metal sculptures are made and to the right, the art studio where vibrant colors hang together as one-an artist’s dream.

At one point, the ideal low-rent Topanga community for artists, families and elders consisted of 300 people, but a State Parks eviction (the state bought 1,659 acres in Lower Topanga in 2001 and plans to turn it into a park) has left less than 30 people remaining. The last standing family and friends of the Rodeo community have been there for years and worked hard to build and flourish a rural community of talented entrepreneurs who represent themselves.

Topanga has long been home to James Mathers, a painter who had a rise and fall in the ’80s and now has hit the 40 mark. The artist explains himself “as a random piece of the L.A. art underground.” Since then, he has continued to paint and write while encouraging a coterie of artists who look to him for help when the creative battle becomes too heavy. Here, in his studio, a temporal art scene can be experienced. By exploring the creative process the artists use each other as inspirational tools and conspire and create collaborative artwork. Day and night, Mathers and his disciples paint, document, photograph, dance, sing and traffic expressions of a new age art wave.

The dilemma they face-what will they do when they must leave? Alternative art spaces are vanishing and to find something within modest means is difficult. To express what they have and may lose, and to help raise funds, the artists are exhibiting their works Thursday, Dec. 2, at X studios, 1503 Cahuenga Blvd. (at Sunset), at 4:20 p.m.