The reality of imagination, art for our sake

Artist Rita Milch and John Evans, co-owner of Diesel, A Bookstore, install one of Milch's works for Saturday's showing at the store.

The artwork of Rita Milch to be showcased at Diesel, A Bookstore Saturday.

By Susan Bunn/Special to The Malibu Times

In a world that has a large appetite for spinning the illusion of special effect, multimedia, cross-platformed products, it might take more than a minute to consider the value of something real. The presentation of art where content is everything. It’s essential. Bookstores come close, though many have been malled and chained, and companioned with coffee bars that infer community more than awaken it. An exception to this is Diesel, A Bookstore in Malibu.

Diesel’s owners, John Evans and Alison Reid, don’t serve coffee with their books. They serve art, featuring a rotating show every couple of months. They don’t promote multimedia. They don’t spin a story. They mix their media of the printed word that tells a story and the painted picture that reveals one.

This Saturday, Malibuites are invited to view the prints and paintings of artist Rita Milch high along the walls of Diesel. She too mixes her media.

“I love the idea of being around books, of having the work in that kind of atmosphere,” said Milch, whose paintings have been shown at galleries from Los Angeles to Martha’s Vineyard and soon Palm Beach, Florida. “Especially the pieces in this show. They’re all about storytelling.”

Milch knows about telling a story. She is an Emmy-award winning documentary producer/editor who has always been attracted to both the collage in paintings and the montage in life. “You want the work to be true to itself, to stand up to its own necessities and imperatives,” she said.

Her documentary, a PBS Frontline special on the wrenching experience of abortion, was one way to tell a story. Emptying her purse and using whatever she finds at the bottom to mix up with some paint in an expression of life’s underbelly, for Milch, is another.

“The world of painting has its own demands,” Milch asserted, claiming the possibilities are endless to explore what’s real by raising up the ordinary to the light of the imagined. “You sort of have a dialogue with the work. The things that bombard you everyday, all this stuff is just under the surface all the time, even when I’m staring at a bowl of fruit and considering how one orange relates to another,” she said. “My mind is jamming me with hectic thoughts about what’s next on the list of things to get done that day.”

Mother of three and married to television writer/producer (HBO Deadwood) David Milch, she has always gotten things done. She has always been a painter. “I just always drew,” she said.

“I remember my grandfather telling stories about how I was picked on by my brothers and sisters all the time. I’d just sit there and draw or paint while they’d be teasing me on all sides.”

Like other revolving art shows and book signing events at Diesel, Milch’s show will have an opening party during the afternoon of Feb. 5, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m.

“I like Rita’s work because it has qualities that starkly remind me of dreams with certain expressionist elements in the palette,” Evans said. “With a bit of surrealism, that’s the way reality is, what they call ‘the imaginal.'”

Imaginative ideas are as important to Evans as books. In fact, by age 10, he knew he wanted to sell books. Big ideas started popping out of him at age four when he recalled his first notions on a philosophical concept. “What if all this is a giant’s dream,” he mused to his best friend at the time, “and what if the giant woke up?”

It appears Evans and partner Reid have been wide awake on the subject of selling books mixed in with art. They’ve been mixing this media, not unlike Milch’s paintings, in collage since their early days in the bookselling business during the 80s, before book selling became big business. “I grew up in a time when TV was in its ascendance and corporate control of music also started occurring,” Evans mused. “In fact, we have a small section at Diesel called ‘Post Elvis,'” he said with a smile. “Because after that, it was impossible to make divisions like jazz or classical. It all became ‘pop musey.'”

Their first store in the San Francisco Bay area also housed art along with books.

“We’re trying to bring people what they don’t have and show them what is around them,” Evans said. Along with Reid, Evans said the two are doing what they do best. “We’re just following what it is we believe in, what we know, have the skill for, find meaningful and enjoy,” he said, adding that choosing books and art is not unlike a curator’s task behind the scenes at a museum.

“We get to work with all this great stuff and look at this great art for two months at a time,” Evans said with enthusiasm.

Like Milch’s paintings, Diesel provides a simple way to spend real time in touch with things imagined.