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Inside Red Zebra's Wild Ride

By Sommer Lawal
Published: Thursday, August 05, 2010, at 07:22AM
Robert Vargas Rick Mendoza

Artist Robert Vargas poses inside the Crocker Club’s vault. The club is the location of Vargas’ monthly Red Zebra art events.

The Historic Core’s Crocker Club may be better known for its dress code than for the scene inside, but one Thursday night a month finds the patrons looking just a little bit different. Latex clothing, tuxedos, tattered dresses, high fashion, fishnets and fur somehow find their way in the door and down the stairs, where red lips, big hair and smoky eyes can be found walking the runway.

The night is Red Zebra, the creation of local artist Robert Vargas, whose work you may have seen on any of a number of Downtown gallery walls over the last six years. He’s also an Art Walk fixture, often found creating charcoal sketches of the faces of passers-by.

For the last six months, Vargas has been throwing a party that tries to put a new spin on showcasing Downtown’s talent, and he’s not shy in talking about it.

“Red Zebra is a spin-off of who I am,” Vargas says, on this day wearing a leather fedora hat wrapped with ribbons of multiple primary colors. “Because of my brand as an artist, Red Zebra came about. I’ve been a part of the ‘canon’ that is the art community for six years. Red Zebra came about from my fan base. There’s a void in the community for bringing the gallery to the streets.”

The event takes place on the first Thursday of each month, inside the basement club at 5th and Spring. “Downtown’s finest creatives,” per Vargas, is what the Red Zebra celebration is about. The event showcases talent ranging from live art, live music and bands, fashion shows, comedy shows and varying performance art.

“I was the first artist to paint outside on the streets during Artwalk, bringing it to life. People respond to the creative process because of this void. There’s usually a separation between the viewer and art. I erase these lines by having live art. This artwork encourages participation by engaging the viewer where they feel like their beauty is worth immortalizing as well.”

Vargas does have proper art credentials. Born and raised in Boyle Heights, he received a full ride to Pratt Institute in New York City, where he stayed six years past graduation before returning to his Angeleno roots.

Local connections and the art are Red Zebra’s focus. “This isn’t about throwing a party,” says a passionate Vargas. “Art is the primary focus. I hire from within Downtown LA. Everyone involved lives Downtown, from the sponsors and hair stylists for the fashion shows from Salon Pure, to the actual designers, like Ernie and Shelly Erion. I’m turning the streets into my studio and everyone is in the space. Red Zebra is a conduit of their energy.“

Acts rotate monthly. This Thursday, August 5th, Red Zebra will have three live bands, one MC, a runway show consisting of two designers, one for fashion, one for the peep show, a comedy show, ‘The Glass Door’ (a club within the Crocker Club), all celebrated by DJ Josh Peace. “Ernie Omega will be the host of the room,” Vargas adds.

In September, Vargas presents a night of couture, as well as a collaboration piece with Jim Manos, creator of Dexter on Showtime. “He will be live writing on a huge canvas while I paint on the same surface. It will be an intuitive mixed media collage,“ says Vargas with a smile and a wink.

“You truly start to see the growth of the city when it becomes multi-layered,” Vargas says before getting a bit existential. “I’m not relying on Artwalk to support and participate. The artists in a space makes them part of the virtual painting that I’m creating. Red Zebra is a free event, accessible to everyone. Spring Street is the Nile of Downtown LA. We can all see the busy hustle on the surface, but underneath, there’s a speak-easy in an old bank vault beneath Spring Street and it’s Red Zebra.”

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