The Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles has become a popular hotspot for local artists, many of whom have opened up innovative gallery spaces and boutiques to capitalize on walk-in traffic from younger residents looking to purchase quirky artwork. Today, we’ll give you an insider look at one of the most unique of these fashion-forward neighborhood fixtures: La Luz de Jesus Gallery, known to neighborhood residents as, simply, “Wacko.”
Photo Credit: Weekendtrips.com
Looking for a place to grab a bite nearby? Check out our post on the best restaurants in Los Feliz!
Wacko is what you could call a Kitsch Convenience Store – or maybe Pee Wee Herman’s Roadside Souvenir Stand – a cornucopia of obscure toys, inventive and colorful housewares, eclectic books, vibrant prints, personable figurines, and innumerable other random doodads that you don’t really need but absolutely must have.
Every shelf and wall is densely stocked with myriad odds and ends (but mostly odds), enough to fascinate any visitor for hours. Kewpie dolls in pink pinafores, desktop gumball machines, robot cookie jars, taxidermy moths and beetles, rare art and print books, unicorn statuettes, Star Trek figurines: Wacko aims to have a tchotchke for every taste.
Whether you’re looking for a wind-up Godzilla, a watermelon-scented eraser, a sock monkey shoe tree, or a pair of pineapple-print suspenders, you can probably find it at Wacko. Wacko is also the best place in Los Angeles to shop for a truly unique gift – loyal trekkies, comic-book nerds, kitsch enthusiasts, and lovers of innovative design will all treasure presents purchased at Wacko. Most of the merchandise embodies a singular sense of humor, such as the solar-powered Queen Elizabeth II figurine, who executes a smooth royal wave when installed on a sunny windowsill – the stately statuette has a companion piece, a head-bobbing Corgi that’s solar-powered as well.
Photo Credit: Laweekly.com
Owner Billy Shire has taken a hands-on role in managing the merchandising and marketing since taking over the family business back in the early 1980s. The store’s full name is Soap Plant Wacko, and it began as a handmade soap shop in Los Feliz, followed by a stint on Melrose Avenue before moving to its current digs on Hollywood Boulevard in 1995. Since then, Soap Plant Wacko has become a Los Angeles landmark, adorned with vibrant murals that can be spotted blocks away.
Staying in the neighborhood for the evening? Stop by the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz!
In addition to its curio collection, Soap Plant Wacko’s La Luz de Jesus art gallery has been displaying the works of underground artists, showcasing California’s “lowbrow” art movement. Fine arts aficionados know this humble knick-knack emporium as one of the most important, ground-breaking galleries in the Los Angeles area, which quickly gained renown with collectors, galleries, and artists around the world.
La Luz de Jesus Gallery was established several years after the Soap Plant first opened, founded by Billy Shire as a space to showcase innovative art and foster creative expression by unconventional local artists. The original gallery was located in the venture’s bright pink building on Melrose Avenue, upstairs from Shire’s retail outlet, the Soap Plant artisanal soap store and the Wacko literally everything else you could imagine (and many things you probably can’t) store. When Wacko moved back to its original Los Feliz stomping grounds, the gallery went along with it, re-opening in its current gallery space on Hollywood Boulevard near Vermont Avenue. In April 2005, Shire opened a sister gallery in nearby Culver City, California, Billy Shire Fine Arts.
Photo Credit: Voyagela.com
La Luz de Jesus Gallery provides both an exhibition space and a support structure to the Lowbrow arts movement and associated pop surrealist artists – the movement and the gallery share a sensibility with Wacko’s affectionate enthusiasm for all things pop, and most of the artists producing Lowbrow art use pop culture tropes, palettes, and graphic design features as the springboard for their own original artistic creations.
In a 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Shire summed up the gallery’s philosophy as, “Art should be by the people and for the people. It should be something that speaks to you, that entertains and challenges and changes your outlook.” In keeping with this popularizing, community-oriented approach, the gallery offers an impressive lineup of original art exhibitions, showcasing a fresh exhibit every month that kicks off with an opening reception on the first Friday of each month.
The gallery showcases primarily figurative and narrative painting and unusual sculpture, with a focus on themes and styles including folk art, outsider art, religious-themed art. The gallery has launched the careers of a number of famous artists who were working in near-total obscurity when their work took center stage at the gallery, including Manuel Ocampo, Joe Coleman, and Robert Williams. Notable established artists who have exhibited new work at La Luz de Jesus include Marco Almera and Joe Sorren.
On top of regular solo and two-person shows, and in keeping with its collaborative, pop-culture-oriented brand, the gallery also hosts a variety of group shows throughout the year, including a much-anticipated annual group exhibition called “Everything But the Kitschen Sink,” which is dedicated to promoting the work of relatively unknown and emerging artists still at the beginning of their careers.
So if you’re in the market for a solar-powered monarch, a Chewbacca Pez dispenser, or a Steven Universe-style beanie, stop by Soap Plant Wacko in Los Feliz. Even if you have no idea what you’re looking for, you’ll find something to love.
Real Estate Unlimited is a real-estate company dedicated to representing clients in Los Feliz and other historic neighborhoods throughout the Los Angeles area. We pride ourselves on our in-depth knowledge of the Los Angeles area, and we’re glad to give our clients the benefit of our local expertise. Call us to schedule a consultation today!