Just last week, Howeeduzzit, an art gallery in an unlikely spot on an industrial corner of Alhambra, exhibited the work of the nationally syndicated cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz. Now it’s a different scene: ladders are propped up around the single-room studio, art pieces have been taken down, some of them left to sit idly on the floor.
These are the final days of Howeeduzzit, owner Howard Swerdloff’s eclectic labor of love. "The gallery started as a combination of vision and passion,” Swerdloff said. “I wanted to give an outlet to the unknowns. I wanted to let them show their work."
Even without an exhibition, the gallery shows lingering signs of this vision: In the middle of a cluttered room stands a water fountain studded with multi-colored pebbles, a molded cast of a man’s torso, and a living-room chair painted to tell of the oppression suffered by indigenous peoples (the legs have shackles).
Last November, Howeeduzzit showcased a collection made from gourds and blown glass. Car shows were a regular event; hot-rods and other vintage rides were displayed in their full glory on the parking lot at the corner of Raymond and Mission Avenues. Word of this offbeat gallery got around, and Swerdloff said he got 20 to 30 calls a week from artists who wanted to showcase their work, including inquiries from Argentina, France, and Sweden.
The wide scope of the gallery has served as Swerdloff's mission statement. There are no boundaries whatsoever — not a single constraint on topic or medium. "One thing I can say about the gallery is that it's artist-oriented," said Raoul De la Sota, an artist friend of Swerdloff’s who teaches at Los Angeles City College. "It's a collaboration between the owner and the artist. They decide what is shown, how it is shown."
The gallery also paved the way for other artists to come to the area, with painters Yolanda Gonzalez and Arturo Mallmann now sharing Howeeduzzit’s lot space (read our profile of Gonzalez here). As a result, Alhambra, not known for its art scene, has a creative hub right in the center of this industrial section.
"It was all his influence. He's a pioneer, though he doesn't look like one," de la Sota said jokingly.
As an artist Swerdloff has no formal training. Instead he learned the ropes while serving as an apprentice for Charles Dixon, a Compton-based sculptor. As exemplified by his work with gourds, Swerdloff has a knack for infusing the natural with the surreal. There is an earthly vibe to his pieces, but the colors are otherworldly. The surface design of his gourds resemble a celestial phenomena—they’re like windows into a far-off galaxy.
Giving a final tour of the gallery, Swerdloff stops by a pile of discarded lumber and searches for something. He pulls out a human head (no need to fret — it's made of clay). The face is creamy-white. A headdress glitters with every color in the spectrum. Swerdloff is familiar with the artist of this piece: it's him. Cradling the head in his hand, he explains what had prompted him to begin a life in the arts. "It was the 60s. I was a total hippie then," he said, and began to laugh. He left it at that.
Swerdloff does most of his work in his studio, Howeeduzzit Creations, which sits on the same block as the gallery. There he makes custom furniture for what he calls his “day gig.” On a recent afternoon lumber was stacked and bound on the benches. The industrial scent of grease, sawdust, and polisher filled the air. It could be mistaken a woodshop class, except for the oddities on the shelves and tables: miniature landscapes depicted on driftwood, a collage of fabrics glued to slabs of wood; prickly plants spouting from gourds.
Aside from being a work studio, it’s also an informal space where artists gather to hash out ideas. That afternoon Swerdloff was joined by de la Sota and Keef Aura, a muralist who started off as a graffiti artist. De la Sota has just finished his latest project: a depiction of a countryside made from fabrics dumped out by the nearby upholstery store. Unlike the gallery, the studio will remain, serving at Swerdloff’s base of operations.
Talking about the next move, he doesn't show much remorse. “I got to the point where I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Swerdloff said of financial setbacks that are forcing him to close. He maintained it’s merely a transition to a different stage of life; he's already made plans to curate a show at Highland Park's Avenue 50 Studio in August.