Christine Bernal and Yvonne Russo's majestical roof art colony thrives off Old Pasadena's beaten path
By Karen Apostolina 04/02/2008
Entering the courtyard of the Majestical Roof Art Colony feels like that moment when Dorothy steps from black-and-white Kansas into the Technicolor land of Oz. A high canopy of wisteria arches over the brick patio; colorful murals adorn the storefront walls; music floats from an adjacent studio filled with colorful balloons. A man sitting at a café table pauses from his writing to look around him and take a deep breath. This is a creative sanctuary, tucked away just off Fair Oaks Avenue, between Holly and Union streets.
Stencil artist Diane Elizabeth is a regular in the courtyard. She says a friend recommended the Majestical Roof as the ideal place to show her work and be part of a communal art experience. “It’s absolutely perfect,” says Elizabeth. “My respect for the whole artisan aspect of this place is profound. Being able to be an artist and
be creative. It’s much more open. I’m allowed to just be and work from within.”
Here in Los Angeles, the art community often seems isolated from the consumer on the street (unless the artists happen to be living on the street themselves). The typical shopper on Colorado Boulevard will hit Crate & Barrel, Victoria’s Secret and the Gap.
But for those who happen upon this hidden courtyard, whimsy and color pop from every corner.
Cousins and co-owners Yvonne Russo and Christina Bernal wanted to create a place for artists who are ready to present their work to the public. Russo’s large self-portrait titled “The Majestical Roof” hangs inside the shop. She says the name represents “the universe, where all creation comes from.” She’s aware that Shakespeare also used the term in “Hamlet” (“This brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”), but says that’s not what inspired her.
“For me it was about Earth. And that picture is about creating and wishing you could live a life as a creative artist without the ‘starving artist’ concept.” Russo emphatically rejects the idea of starving or suffering for your art and has put her money where her mouth is. “I hate that! I don’t believe that,” she insists. “When people say ‘I’m a starving artist’ I say, you don’t have to be. If you really believe in what you’re doing, there’s always a way to make it work.”
The Majestical Roof has three main components: the boutique, the studio and courtyard space and the Pop-up Concept Gallery. The boutique carries wares from more than 90 local artists at modest prices. It also provides a unique custom design service so anybody can walk in and say, “I want custom-painted Converse sneakers in the style of Salvador Dali.” Russo and Bernal retain an impressive stable of artists, ready and willing to create anything. “We have metal artists, glass artists, jewelry artists, fine artists. I mean I pretty much have a guy that can create a city if you needed it,” says Russo. (Is Rick Caruso lurking in the bushes?)
This was good news for the fellow who wanted a custom-made Polo shirt with a high collar, to keep his neck from getting sunburned, and was willing to pay up to $300 for it. Also for the man who envisioned a painting that would represent his love for his new girlfriend — specifically, a Picasso-like rendering of a lioness taming a man, with a surrealist Mark Chagall-themed background. Not a problem; $1,200 later he was the owner of this exquisite one-of-a-kind painting.
This is a refreshing idea in our world of mass-marketed goods. It allows the client and artist to collaborate and is central to the Roof’s philosophy of giving back to the community. “If you have $100 to spend on a product, let’s put it toward somebody who made it locally — put love into it, because all that’s going to come back to you,” says Bernal.
The boutique also carries colorful purses by Unico made from recycled potato-chip and candy wrappers. There’s the Antibody line of body products, made by a husband-and-wife team who formulate everything in their garage. These are fair trade products, meaning the shea butter comes from an African tribe that will receive some of the proceeds from the sale. You won’t find that at Target.
There’s also Bernal’s adorable line of pet apparel made from recycled materials, and handcrafted soap and soy candles from Jesus Iribe. Iribe’s grandmother taught him the art of candle- and soap-making when he was a little boy. After saving $120 from waiting on tables, he brought his eco-friendly products to the store.
Next door to the boutique is the experimental Pop-Up Concept Gallery, where artists are given one month, rent-free, to showcase and sell their work. The Majestical Roof takes a commission on the sales.
Husband and wife Kelly and Suzan Jones are now exhibiting vibrant photo iconography. They started “messing around” with photos on the computer and found they had a talent for creating evocative neon-colored art. The photos are printed on bamboo paper with archival ink, mounted on boards, and then glazed to look like paintings.
Russo says artists come loaded with talent and ideas, but they’re not always business savvy. For many, this is their first attempt at marketing their work. Russo’s had a little more experience: “I make jewelry and I’m a product designer,” she says. “But I also produce film and TV, that’s my bread and butter.” It was during her last hiatus that she came up with the Roof concept. “I thought, ‘Gosh, it would be so neat to be able to have a place to create, and have a studio where artists can come together,’” says Russo. “So I took my money and basically put it into to the shop.”
However, she’s quick to share the credit. “I think all the artists are special because they have their creative voice and they just need the opportunity. Christina [Bernal] and I, this is our passion but we’re all on equal terms with all the artists.”
The duo’s long-term goal is to create an agency division of the Majestical Roof to connect their coterie of artists with clients. Russo and Bernal, who are of American Indian ancestry, are also working on their minority certification. This may give them the opportunity to work with Fortune 500 companies’ supplier diversity divisions. These companies have a mandate to give a percentage of their moolah to smaller mom-and-pop or minority businesses.
Russo also hopes to provide art to television shows for product placement. She proudly shows production stills from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with actress Cheryl Hines wearing jewelry by Roof artist Michelle Scoggins. “If our artists can get on a show, it just creates more viability for the store, for everybody and for what we’re doing.”
The starving artist grows up. And the mothers of invention are two smiling, dark-haired Lakota Sioux women. The Roof is still looking for new artists — and musicians of all stripes are invited to play in the courtyard anytime until 10 p.m.
The Majestical Roof, 88 N. Fair Oaks Ave. Stes. 101 and 103, Pasadena (between Holly and Union streets). Call (626) 844-8886 or visit myspace.com/majesticalroof.