LA was in a different period in its history where it was, like, you know, it hadn’t quite gotten self-conscious yet. So, people were still—it was still stigmatized. People were like, “Oh, LA sucks. Like, I hate LA.” So, it was an interesting time to come. . . . And then the legions of Chicagoans came after. . . . I feel like Sterling kind of started that little second wave, and then I came the following year.
Chicago-born Amanda Ross-Ho followed her parents' footsteps, becoming a second-generation art student at the School of the Art Institute Chicago (SAIC) in the late nineties. The school had been and continued to be a place for artists to build their networks. At SAIC, she met Sterling Ruby and Aaron Curry who joined the program a couple years later. After graduating, Ross-Ho stayed in Chicago, worked at SAIC for a little while in the school's first-year program, and continued to develop friendships with Curry and Sterling.
All these artists I was interested in were teaching out here. So I was like, "Let's go." So we made it out here. And went to school. That was really—I wasn't like, "Oh, you know . . . " I was fascinated by the culture here because I had grown up being a BMX racer. And a skateboarder. And all that originated here. So a lot of the things I was looking at visually had originated here—even what people were wearing. But I wasn't like, "Oh, I really want to move to LA because it's this amazing, beautiful place." I didn't even think about it.
Soon after their move, Ruby encouraged Ross-Ho to join them out west. As she applied to graduate schools, Ross-Ho added the University of Southern California (USC) based on Ruby's recommendation and in 2004, Ross-Ho moved to LA, staying with Ruby while she attended USC.
In their last year at ArtCenter, Curry and Ruby started talking about sharing a studio with Ross-Ho and others. Ruby found an old warehouse on Fishburn Avenue near Hazard Park, east of downtown LA. The 12,000-square-foot former rubber factory cost “$0.39 a foot or something . . . ridiculously cheap,” recalled Ross-Ho. This new space was totally raw and ready for artists to build it out as needed. Curry describes the humble beginnings: "I went in. And I just put studs up and built a wall and, eventually, people just started building on. And by the end of it, it was just a hallway and there were all these spaces. It was great. Everybody working over there together.” Many artists found their way into the community and in the end, they divided the warehouse into 12 studio spaces. The artists at what they called the Fishburn Building included Sara Conway, Aaron Curry, Nate Hilden, Brett Lund, Adam Miller, Devon Oder, David Radcliffe, Amanda Ros-Ho, Steven Rose, Sterling Ruby, and Chris Vaso.
Ruby remembers the studio’s location east of downtown Los Angeles, “It was wild, the road was unpaved, and there were few businesses in the area except for the stinking recycling plant opposite the studio that still makes your eyes sting. There was this homeless guy who had all these dogs. Because of all the scrap lots there was trash everywhere. When I say it was the wild west, it really was. Anything could happen.” 1
Jonathan Griffin, "Interview: on the road with the US artist Sterling Ruby." Financial Times, Aug 26, 2016. ↩
Google Map View of Fishburn Avenue
Back then, there was a really great creative energy with all of us working out of that building . . . and after it, too, where I felt like people were just really excited about being in LA and being creative here. There was magic here.
The warehouse proved to be very important to many of the artists' art practices. Ruby recalls:
My studio was in Hazard Park, where the Avenues and MS13 gangs were fighting over drugs and territory. Their disputes were visually apparent through massive amounts of tagging. The city responded by sending out their anti-graffiti teams during the night. . . . All territorial clashes, aggressive cryptograms, and death threats were nullified into a mass of spray-painted gestures that had become nothing more than atmosphere, their violent disputes transposed into an immense, outdoor, nonrepresentational mural. The city teams would then continue the cycle with a clean slate that evening, and it would start all over the next morning. I started painting again when I saw this.2
For Ross-Ho this meant her literal studio. Ross-Ho often incorporates her studio process into her work so when the Hazard Park Complex was forced to close, she decided to excavate the walls of her Hazard Park studio and display them as an artwork. Titled Frauds for an Inside Job (2008), the installation includes nine walls covered in paint, canvas, posters, and other items. First exhibited at the Orange County Museum of Art's Biennial in 2008, it was reproduced at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago two years later.
Quote from Amanda
Brett Lund, Nate Hilden, David Radcliffe, Chris Vaso . . . me, Sara Conaway, Erik [Frydenborg], Adam Miller and Devon Oder, who ended up starting The PIT, which is a gallery in Glendale. . . . There’s a whole kind of legacy that came out of there.
Aware of the future legacy of the group of artists within the Hazard Park Complex, Sterling Ruby curated the 2007 exhibition Post Rose: Artists in and out of the Hazard Park Complex at Galerie Christian Nagel in Berlin. The show included work by artists from the warehouse, including Aaron Curry and Amanda Ross-Ho. About the exhibition, Ross-Ho recalls, "[Ruby] thinks about his own history in a way that’s really interesting. And so I think he thought about this moment in time and realized that it would be interesting to speak to that through an exhibition."