L.A. Habitat is a weekly series of visits with 16 artists in their workspaces around the city.
This week’s studio: Lili Bernard; Miracle Mile, Los Angeles. “It was a large space, two floors plus a loft, about 2200 square feet,” Lili Bernard told me, recalling her previous studio space, on Chung King Road, the main drag of Chinatown in Los Angeles. “But I gave it up.” She did so for three reasons: she could no longer afford it, she started grad school at the Otis College of Art and Design (a 30-minute drive from Chinatown on a good day), and she preferred having a studio space at her home, in the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles. “I no longer have to waste time driving back and forth through all the L.A. traffic,” she said.
Bernard lives with her husband and six children in a two-story house on a relatively quiet residential street. “The room which I use as my art studio within our home is relatively small, around 256 square feet. My studio therefore ends up spilling out into our living room which is spacious, and better accommodates the creation of my large paintings and sculptures.” Bernard dreams of building a larger studio space in her backyard, which would give her more space to focus on creating larger works. “It would also allow my children to play without having to contend with my art and tools everywhere,” she said, “but I imagine that my kids will still be all up in my work. It’s often me and the children creating art side by side—precious moments for me.”
Bernard was born in Cuba, and spent some time in New York before she moved to L.A. in 1993. The climate and landscape of the city deeply informs Bernard’s action-packed paintings—scenes that often reimagine canonical paintings from European art history with racially diverse subjects and frenetic colors. A recurring motif in her work is the Ceiba tree. “In Cuba, as well as in parts of Africa, Asia, and other parts of Latin America, the Ceiba tree is considered to be a sacred tree,” she said. “Since my artwork is heavily codified with Afro-Cuban religious iconography and folklore, I infuse my paintings, sculptures, photography and video art with images of the Ceiba tree and her flowers.” Because of L.A.’s sunny, warm, stable climate, ceiba trees thrive in the area, even during droughts, because their roots are deep enough to reach subterranean waters.
Her ties to the entertainment industry also inform her work, particularly recently. “I bring my artwork into my political activism as a feminist, specifically in my fighting rape culture and the exploitation of women which is rampant in the entertainment industry whose mecca is Los Angeles,” she told me. Bernard recently discussed her experience as a rape survivor in New York Magazine as well as other news outlets. Her autobiographical body of work called “BC Trauma Bond: As in Before Christ There Were Demons and They’ve Persisted in Heavenly Places” is based on that traumatic event.
Bernard is also actively involved in a number of different causes in the arts, including BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles, which she founded in 2011 to help advance the careers of black artists in the city. “L.A. has a rich black arts scene,” she said. “Many of the great black art stars have hailed from Los Angeles. However, the majority of black artists in L.A. are hugely underrepresented.”
Bernard currently has work in a show called “Coming to the Table” at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, California, organized by the Association of Hysteric Curators, an intergenerational, multicultural group of Los Angeles-based feminist artists.
Below, a look around Bernard’s Miracle Mile studio.
ALL PHOTOS: KATHERINE MCMAHON