My Friend Sponto

By Carol Fondiller

Two people who have left their imprint on the Venice “Art Scene” have died. Both within the same week. One got the full funeral treatment of a prominent art personage who traveled in influential money and powerful circles. The other died almost anonymously in his small gallery on 7 Dudley Avenue.

Robert Graham sure as hell left his imprint on Venice. In addition to his sculptured homage to Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, who was a young woman dismembered in the 1940’s, the murder remains one of the more bizarre unsolved crimes in Los Angeles Crime Annals.

One can see this homage at the Venice Traffic Circle, where it was stuck there without knowledge or consent of most of the Venice Community and since poor Ms. Short had little or no connection to Venice, it would have been more appropriate to erect a statue of Charles Manson, at least he tried to kill someone in the Beachhouse apartments.

Graham turned those torsos out by the 100’s, where they were bought by artrepeneurs. They’re scattered over and in the salons of the world like the clowns painted by John Wayne Gancey, a famous dismemberer and cannibal of the late 20th century, who spends his time in prison painting clowns. They are much prized by people who prize clowns and killers.

I guess Graham had one of his mass produced torsos left over, needed a tax break, bestowed the thing on an ungrateful Venice. There were some Venetians who tried to take the torsos to heart by sticking a head on the torso and pasties on the torsos. Pert little titties to make it more Venice. 

Graham hired thugs to beat up people who did that and installed surveillance equipment on an illegally constructed overhang that bangs like a flacid prick over Windward Avenue. Now that Graham is dead, the torso will appreciate in value, and it will be worth someone’s time and effort to steal the damn thing. Perhaps the columns that he illegally uprooted from Windward Avenue so that he could build his illegally constructed overhang might replace his non-Venice referential piece.

Mark Kornfeld also died in then late December and was a member of the Art Community. I met him when he was one of the cutest guys in Venice. Curly blond hair, blue eyes, nice body, charming and funny. He had the greatest collection of junk I’ve ever seen – old clocks, stunning art, nouveau vases, kewpie dolls and bikes – old Schwinn Bikes that he repaired. I bought some of my favorite bikes from him, sturdy fat tires, with ladies’ foot brakes that were stolen from me. I swear they spoke to me. I’d glide or pump furiously down the Ocean Front Walk and then on the bike path until I was driven off the path by skaters and thousand dollar aluminum titanium light-weight racing bikes who’d push me off the path yelling at me that I was too slow. But my bikes were much admired by the surfers. They were also admired by scoundrely thieves.

Somehow he managed to rent 7 Dudley, home of the famous Venice West Café.

He opened up his art gallery in the late 70s. Mark told me he wanted to keep the spirit of the Venice West. He wanted to host poetry readings, art openings, which many times turned into art parties.

He allowed other people to use his space for meetings and community events. He picked up stuff to sell and was always on the lookout for chicks.

When Venice started to be trendy in the 60s the celebs who wanted to imbibe the “creative” atmosphere of Venice, charmed by the quaint beach cottages, they proceeded to destroy that which they professed to love.

Now Mark was as political as a Golden Labrador Retriever. He thought his little gallery would prosper with the onslaught of the Afflu-Hips.

Instead, a restaurant opened next door to him and immediately the restaurant began complaining about the bikes that Mark parked very neatly and out of the way on the sidewalk. Never mind that said restaurant illegally co-opted space on the sidewalk with tables and chairs, along with très chic slate sandwich boards announcing the specialties de la maison, guess who got cited and who didn’t?

The owner of the building, speculator Werner Sharf tried to evict Mark so that the restaurant could expand its chiciness. Mark persevered and, along with people like Jerry Fialka and Suzy Williams, continued to do his own art and promote outsider art of various artists.

Edgy films, readings, history, music and parties continued and flourished in spite of continual harassment and threats from the landlord and a succession of I-think-I’ll-open-up-a-quaint-little boutique-that-looks-funky-and-is-pricey would be restauranteurs.

But no matter what his troubles, people who bailed on him, cheated him, relatives who swindled him, Mark was always planning his next event.

He wanted to be part of the now prestigious Venice Art Walk. The artrepreneurs who run the Art Walk turned him down.

How could this guy who sold no Bells, Arnoldis, Dills or other art Fashionistos, who was not noticed by the Bull artists of the art world, dare to aspire to heights that in the know where sophisticates and purchasers of High end art presided?

Great Robert Graham, Bull artist of Venice, Bull Gentrification, has left his Great Glaring hoof print in Venice.

His vandalizing the Columns of Windward Avenue, his so far successful efforts to close the downstairs of the Town House, a bar that has been in Venice since 1910. The downstairs was a speakeasy and was a tourist attraction and a source of Civic Pride.

And of course, THE TORSO.

I make no judgment on the artistic attributes of said TORSO, but Graham shoved it on us with the complicit aid of Cindy Miscikowski, former unelected Councilwoman and spouse of Doug Ring, mega-lease holder in Marina Del Rey.

But Mark walked lightly on Venice.

Yes, he wanted to be recognized and rich, but he never destroyed Venice. He changed, but he kept the soul of the community. He saw and loved the edginess, the ugliness, the beauty of this community, this anarcate we call home, as long as the kindly speculators allow us to live in our inflated rent tenements and over-mortgaged and over-taxed single homes that need repairs.

I remember Mark as that golden child-man, enjoying the sun and rain, inviting me into his gallery for a taste of his sacred herb, getting me so stoned, so full of laughter, of his friends and of his generosity.

I found out that Mark’s lease was up in January and it would not be renewed.

In December, Mark went into his Gallery on 7 Dudley and died.

I guess I could go all cosmic woo-woo and speculate on the 2 disparate people who were involved with art and died within days of each other.

I remember Mark and I remember remembering him that those days, they WERE the good ole days.

All I know is, sorry your lease was up old friend.

Categories: Obituary, Venice