'Dream' for a Good Cause: Bagavagabonds' Art Explosion to Feature Affordable Art, Live Music and Ping Pong

When LAist interviewed FILTER Editor-in-Chief Pat McGuire last year, he introduced us to the Bagavagabonds, a group of LA-based friends who are passionate about art in all its forms. Saturday night will mark the Bagavagabonds' fourth Art Explosion—an all-ages multimedia experience and art show at the Brick Building in Culver City.

The Bagavagabonds created this event to make art accessible to everyone. This Art Explosion's theme is Dream, and the group extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to participate. All art pieces will be sold via silent auction for $50 or less, with proceeds benefiting Los Angeles-based charity Make Something.

The $10 admission/donation will also include access to the event's other offerings: live music, free drinks, interactive art installations, a ping pong lounge, short film screenings, the "Zzz listening room" and more. Yesterday LAist caught up with McGuire and his fellow FILTER co-worker/Bagavagabond Eli Thomas to learn more about the event.

LAist: What makes the Art Explosion so special?

Pat McGuire: Many people grow up making art in school, then stop when they get to college or enter a non-creative occupation. They're left thinking about the great movies they'd make, songs they'd write, or paintings they'd create if they had time or a reason. We're just trying to give people a reason to get the paint set out again.

Eli Thomas: And we're trying to remove fear from the equation. We tell people, "Don't be afraid to put your piece on the wall." There are going to be established artists at the Art Explosion as well as guys like us who aren't artists.

McGuire: Traditionally, the audience for these things tends to be scary and stodgy, and the professional art world is a terrifying place if you're not one of those people—and even if you are! We're trying to present a place where people can be themselves and not worry about people judging their most private emotions put to canvas.

Thomas: And the flipside of that is that whether you're an art lover or not—or just have a wall in your house—if you see something you like during the event, you can buy it.

How did you come up with the concept of everything costing $50 or less?

Thomas: We created this concept when we were poor.

McGuire: Even more poor than we are now. (laughs)

Thomas: The $50 theme came out of "How much could I pay for a piece of art that I fell in love with?" And we determined that $50 was the cap. Everyone who walks in has the ability to see something and take it home without worrying if they can afford it.

McGuire: This event is not about the money, but all the money will go to a great cause. Make Something is amazing and they'll soon be opening a school in Los Angeles.

Later on, I'd like to talk about the history of the Bagavagabonds, but first I'd like to learn more about this event. When did you hold the first Art Explosion?

Thomas: In 2006 we had the Animal theme. Beatles followed later that year and Pop happened in 2007.

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A rendering of the original pink elephant
What gave you the idea for that first show?

Thomas: It's pretty crazy, but the Art Explosion concept came from a needlepoint pink elephant that we bought as we were cruising thrift stores one day. It was this funny, awesome item that sat in our house for five years.

McGuire: It was a 12" x 12" framed needlepoint piece.

Thomas: I found that the elephant would often stop me in my tracks and make me laugh. My friends and I would have all these conversations about art, and one day we talked about how the pink elephant emits some sort of emotional quality. It's not a good piece of art in the sense that people would put it in a gallery or pay big money for it, but it's good in the sense that it makes people smile.

How did the "theme" idea come out of that?

Thomas: It was really a simple concept. We just wanted to give as many people as possible a chance to create art under a theme. Then we'd house it, showcase their work, and give the proceeds to charity.

At the end of the day, people got it. They really understood what we were trying to accomplish and it connected with people more than anything we had done before. We get so much feedback. I was just in Chicago for Lollapalooza and this girl stopped me in the middle of the street and said, "You're one of the Bagavagabonds! I love those art shows." Our last show was two years ago, so it's great that people still have so much affection for it.

The Bagavagabonds have just returned from a two-year hiatus. What brought all of you back together?

McGuire: I guess everybody physically came back to the same place. We all drifted for jobs or love or money…

Thomas: …or the love of money? (laughs)

McGuire: Yeah, after the Pop show, we did an event on the Santa Monica Pier, then we took a little break. After everyone returned, it was just natural to bring back the Art Explosion.

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Dream
The Sir Francis Drake/Picasso image you're using for this event is great. How did that collage come together?

McGuire: That was kind of an accident. Izzy Holden is one of the few of us with an actual art degree, and his professor had him do this paint-by-numbers collage exercise to make a bigger piece. So he had the idea to do a 12' x 8' of Picasso's The Dream. He drew it all out, got the board and cut it into little 2' x 2' squares.

We had another event on July 3 with Insight Garage Artists and we decided to make it a collaborative paint-by-numbers project. It was a big draw. We explained to people that there were no rules as long as the designated spot was the color it was supposed to be. They really went nuts. After it was all done, one of our friends said, "That should be the image for the show." It hadn't occurred to us but it made so much sense.

Is it going to be one of the pieces for sale?

McGuire: I think so.

Thomas: It's been mounted and framed and it looks incredible. We're still trying to figure out how to sell it—or if we even want to—because it means so much.

McGuire: Plus it's 12' tall, so it'd take a special buyer. We've talked about selling it individually as squares. More than 80 people painted on it, so for someone to take home part of it would be cool.

How many pieces of artwork have you received for the event?

Thomas: That's a good question. They're everywhere. There are 25 in my kitchen and the other guys have a bunch.

McGuire: Because we've always been Westside LA guys, we've always had a contingency here, but we wanted to reach out to the Eastside as well. So we had two submission parties last week. Eli had one at his place in Venice and a fellow Bagavagabond, Josh Thorpe, had one in Silver Lake. We got about 25 from each of those, and we've had at least that much since. I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with 150 by Saturday night.

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The full Picasso/Drake collage
Have you received submissions from people outside LA?

Thomas: Yeah, definitely. I just received one from New York today, and even our parents have gotten involved. Josh's dad built this incredible thing out of wood and shipped it down from Portland.

Izzy got one from a girl I went to college with eight years ago who now lives in Arizona. She randomly found out about the event online and it just showed up on his doorstep. It comes from all over, and that's really exciting for us.

This event will feature a number of 5 for 50 films (five-minute short films made for $50 or less). Did you participate in any of those?

Thomas: I haven't yet.

McGuire: Not yet. I'm working on an art piece. One thing that makes this Art Explosion unique is that we're doing experience/installation art pieces that are enclosed in a booth. We've sectioned off different areas and each of us has created our own conceptual, interactive experience.

What have you been working on?

McGuire: I decided that because we've had live music elements at past events, it'd be really cool to have recorded elements. Since I work at FILTER and know a lot of talented musicians, I asked some of my musician friends if they'd record dream-themed cover songs.

I'll have about 10 new songs from a variety of artists, and they're going to be played in a place called the "Zzz Room." The goal is to have people go into the room and listen to the songs one by one. In the middle of this raucous party, they'll be able to check out these songs then record their thoughts for a Dream Diary.

Which bands are participating? Will you ever release the exclusive music?

McGuire: Later on we'll do an online sampler or something so the music will get out there.

The songs I've gotten are from awesome artists like Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, just to name a couple. We Barbarians did one, plus they'll be playing the event as well. Nate from Cold War Kids is recording a Bjork song as we speak. It's going to be a cool element that will live on after the event.

Is it true that you're going to have Ping Pong Lounge and art installation at the event?

Thomas: We were really fortunate to tie in with a couple incredible sponsors, such as FILTER, the Insight clothing line, and K-Swiss. I was sitting with one of the guys from K-Swiss one day and told him about the art show and wondered how a shoe/apparel brand would fit. And the idea of a ping pong lounge came up.

I should also mention that we're all ex-athletes. We're obsessed with sports and have had the gnarliest ping pong battles. In fact, the only fight Pat and I have ever had was over a game of ping pong.

Will there be a rematch during this event?

Thomas: We're going to stay far away from that. (laughs)

McGuire: We've learned our lesson.

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Bagavagabonds (McGuire is in the foreground, and Thomas is standing at the far left)

The Bagavagabonds' blog has featured various dream entries over the last month or two. Are you going to share any of your dreams (through art) during the event?

Thomas: You're going to see one of mine. My art piece is something personal that I'm not afraid to share. I have pretty chronic night terrors where I act out all these crazy things in my sleep. So Josh—who rags on all of us—decided it'd be funny if we created a night terror room. The gist of it is that a bunch of scary things happen and you can't escape. But I won't give anything else away. You'll just have to experience it.

McGuire: At the other event we did on July 3, we had a dream submission booth where we asked people to share some of their craziest dreams. We're going to have the BV Players—the Bagavagabonds theatrical troupe—act out/improv some of those submissions.

It's great that you have a venue large enough to accommodate all of these installations. What led you to choose the Brick Building?

Thomas: We'd originally set up the show for another place, then the venue decided they weren't going to host any more public events. Fortunately, my job is event planning and I work with some great event coordinators throughout the city. I put out some feelers and the Brick Building wasn't even done yet when I went over and met with the owner. She has three spaces within the complex. One is massive—14,000 square feet—and the other two are smaller.

We'd always talked about the idea of how our show would work really well in multiple rooms, and this gave us a scenario where we could house the more active stuff—the bar, silk screening, photo booth, ping pong lounge, live music—in one big active area, then the offshoot rooms could be catered toward showcasing the art and films and some of the quieter aspects of the show. I think it's going to work out really well.

McGuire: It's in a great neighborhood that's central to people coming from the east as well as the west, and it's exciting new ground for us. Culver City is a cool hood.

Is parking going to be pretty accessible?

Thomas: Yes, we secured two lots in the area and there's a Trader Joe's lot on the corner that offers free public parking for the first two hours.

As mentioned earlier, I'd like to chat a bit about the history of the Bagavagabonds. Where did all of you meet—through FILTER? School?

McGuire: A mix of both. Many Bagavagabonds have come through the FILTER family tree. When it comes to school, legend has it that Eli and I were on the same T-ball team when we were five and six years old in Kentucky, but we reconnected again in college at Transylvania University.

Thomas: I guess the rest of the legend goes that I left Kentucky and moved to LA. I went to Loyola Marymount and was fortunate to meet some great people there and fell into an awesome social and creative environment. After about a year, Pat and others started trickling in from Kentucky. So we combined forces with this LMU and Kentucky contingency.

It just started out as us being friends and exploring creative outlets and supporting each other through artistic endeavors—film, music, theater, whatever.

When Pat spoke with LAist last year, he mentioned that you chose the name Bagavagabonds as a way to "name your friendship." What are the origins of the name?

Thomas: One day my buddy Will Overby and I were swimming in the sea off the coast of Italy. We were on this pirate kick a bit before the world became pirate-obsessed. We were joking about stealing a boat that belonged to these two smarmy Italian guys.

Our plan was to sail around the world—pick up our friends in LA—and become these roaming pirates. But we wouldn't be bad pirates. We'd be really nice pirates who would ask for everything politely instead of demanding it. We'd cruise up to a ship and ask, "May we have all of your money and your gold and perhaps your ladies?"

So that was the joke. Then when it came to figuring out what we should be called, we figured we'd be more like vagabonds because we'd be so nice, and the name evolved out of that.

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"Drake"
How did the Sir Francis Drake logo come to be associated with the Bagavagabonds?

Thomas: During the 60s, one of our buddies' family members had this really outstanding "mental voyage" involving Sir Francis Drake. He said it was the best trip of all time. We were all sitting around eating gumbo one night, listening to him tell the story, and it was a really engaging yarn. We all became obsessed. Then our buddy found an old image of Drake and gave him Wayfarers.

McGuire: And we realize now that Sir Francis Drake was a bad pirate. He wasn't a polite guy cruising around, knocking on your door and asking for money. He did some unsavory things, so we're not celebrating those aspects. The Sir Francis Drake we're talking about is the one from our friend's family member's trip.

Since both of you work at FILTER, I'd like to get the latest news about the magazine. The horizontal orientation of your 40th issue was fantastic. What has the response to that been like?

McGuire: It's been so overwhelmingly positive that we've adopted it as our new magazine format. The 41st issue will be officially launched next week.

And your very first music festival is around the corner?

Thomas: Yeah, that's something we are all really excited about, and it's a big part of my job. It'll be FILTER's first festival, and we're calling it Culture Collide. It'll take place Oct. 7-10 in Echo Park. We'll run five venues for three nights, then it'll culminate with a block party.

The whole concept is that we're getting countries to support sending their up-and-coming acts out here, and we'll pair them with more established LA and national bands.

We have an amazing lineup so far. The activities surrounding the show will be fun. All the different countries will be doing different things—we'll have a cookout and people from Norway will be flipping salmon and so forth. It's going to be great. [Wristbands for the entire event are available for $20 but there's a limited supply. Learn more about the festival here.]

As our time draws to a close, is there anything else you'd like to add?

McGuire: We're just excited about Saturday night's event—for a $10 donation you'll get access to all this amazing stuff: drinks are free, art is affordable and the proceeds benefit a great charity.

Don't miss the Bagavagabonds' Art Explosion tomorrow night, August 21, from 7 p.m. - 1 a.m. The event will be held at the Brick Building (8870 Washington Blvd in Culver City). To learn more about the Bagavagabonds, visit www.bagavagabonds.com.

Read LAist's first interview with Pat McGuire here.