LA Fine Art Squad; Revisited

by Pasadena Adjacent

In the days of yore, in a land called Venice, during a summer when dykes ruled the surf and soon to be famous Jim Morrison was at UCLA, carrying around a demo tape of his “film school” band;  (mind you, a demo tape Mr J gave to Mr V which, had Mr V not lost, would have made Mr V a nice little nest egg about now). Our young hero, Victor Henderson met up with a an even younger UCLA grad student named Terry Schoonhoven. A bit later, the older Henderson, influenced by having seen the Living Theater at USC, wanted to take the exclusivity out of “fine” art and bring it to the “people(s).” Some kind of agit prop response appropriate to the times, maybe build a Viet Cong bunker in the vacant lot across the street and throw in some couches.

None of the above happened. Instead Victor Henderson asked the talented Schoonhoven to join him in painting a trompe l’oeil mural on the back of Mr Henderson’s studio wall at the corner of 52 Brooks Ave and Ocean Blvd. The building was owned  by Mr Roy Walford, a UCLA professor, leading advocate for caloric restriction and a crew member of Biosphere 2. The lads named their partnership The LA Fine Art Squad in reference to the LA Metro Squad who had taken over Venice, in April of 1969, turning the streets into a police state.

And our favorite boys would go on to recruit other members to the squad. And the recruits would stay for awhile, then they’d get mad or tired, and leave. Above is an image of the squad doing research and development in Death Valley for the “Isle of California”. The middle member is Mr Schoonhoven flanked by Jim Frazen (a fellow UCLA student along with Terry) on our left and Paul Martin on the right.

One day a Mr M pulled up in front of the Brooks Ave mural looking slick in his souped up sports car. Said he’d been run out of NY by the mafia for trying to start a Christian dance club. Now he had leased a spot on La Cienaga, he wanted to call the Climax Club and “would you boys be interested in putting a mural up on it.” They did. The summer Sharon Tate was slaughtered. They created a wrap around narrative mural called Beverly Hills Sidartha; reinterpreted from Herman Hess’ best seller.

It’s in this mural, that the squad began to break away from the “love generation” in favor of a darker approach to narrative. According to Mr Henderson, the red stars, in the mural’s depiction of  the “Map of Stars” and commonly thought to be the homes of movie stars, are actually code for communist cells. And it’s the first mural depiction of a cartoon. And there’s shag carpet. And this mural gave the squad world wide fame. Which in turn led to their master piece, “Isle of California.”

Mr Morrison died decades ago in a bathtub somewhere in Paris, Mr Walford died of ALS a few years back, and lastly Mr Schoonhoven died of skin cancer in 2001. But Victor Henderson’s still here, and you can celebrate the Squad’s past this Saturday. Bring ten bucks and you too can have a bit of Mr V all to yourself. Where? here April 2. We’d love to see.

11/27/96 – 05/26/11

The reviews are in

Christopher Knight review

David Pegal review

Huffington Post


Artnet: “L.A. Rising: SoCal Artists Before 1980” by Lyn Kienholz