1985 art

Downtown Los Angeles Art Scene

Cheryl west Petty

The 1980s era Downtown Los Angeles art and culture scene was an explosion of feminism within many culture eruptions such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) on North Central and LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Young Artist of the Year. 

The loft phenomenon developed around Santa Fe and spread to J-town and the garment district where Petty had her first studio on San Pedro.

Al’s bar was downstairs from Petty's studio on Traction St, the place she met artist Andrew Wilf one week before he committed suicide by cocaine overdose in 1981.  It became the hippest place not to miss as related in this article from the Los Angeles Times Club Buzz in 2001.


1981 Studio on 765 San Pedro Street, upstairs and facing west

1981 Studio on 765 San Pedro Street, upstairs and facing west

Telephone Madonna Bride with Yucca, 60 x 48 inches, 1985, Cheryl Petty

1983 Traction Street studio above Al's Bar

1983 Traction Street studio above Al's Bar


This period saw the emergence of numerous cult bands such as the Red Hot Chile Peppers who performed in the street also in 1981.

Their fusion funk-psychedelic-punk-rock aesthetic appeals to the hipsters and artists, throbbing with hedonism and excess.


Al's Bar Poster



Painting construction materials and methods used by Cheryl West Petty to create the large canvases of that period were as close to the old masters as possible in spite of the ban on lead in paint in modern formulations.

Linen canvas, rabbit skin glue, and gesso provided the basis for the oil paint application.  Over the years, the medium formula used by Petty has not yellowed or cracked the pigment.  

Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, 78 x 54 inches, 1985, Cheryl Petty

Succulents Still Life with Nude,  24 x 32 inches,1985, Cheryl Petty

Obsession, Hedonism and the Scene

On the heels of the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1980, Cheryl West Petty arrived in Los Angeles, divorced, broke and seeking fulfillment from art.  She got a part-time job selling ads for ArtWeek and moved into her first studio above a Korean sock factory on South San Pedro Street, facing west in the garment district south of Little Tokyo.  The top floor of the brick, two-story building was subdivided into one large and two smaller sections with a communal kitchen and bathroom with shower.

By this time, feminist art had been shocking audiences for more than a decade with explorations of domestic life, personal experience and the woman’s body.  Post-modernism energized and advanced the feminist movement toward women artists demanding equal representation in museums and galleries.   As artists expressed sexual, material, social and political aspects of life, Cheryl West Petty struggled to make sense out of the chaos of her personal life, examining it through the lens of art.

Soon after selling a large ad to the Margo Levin Gallery, she was hired by Brian Cooke at Cooke’s Crating as his assistant where all the employees were artists.  Cooke’s Crating picked up and delivered art all over town for wealthy collectors, museums and galleries as well as building custom crates for traveling shows and art storage.


“Los Angeles, Hedonism!

Los Angeles is the land of freedom, where hedonism rules over broken rules.  I can’t imagine any other place on earth where I’d think it was a good idea to walk around in high heels and wear blue eyeshadow, but for some reason it works in LA.  This is the art capital of America…there’s some fine, fine sculpture wrought here and all sorts of off-radar cultural events.” –Yelp

Downtown also fostered the emergence of numerous cult bands such as the Red Hot Chile Peppers who performed in the street. Their fusion funk-psychedelic-punk-rock aesthetic appeals to the hipsters and artists, throbbing with hedonism and excess.

“Given the reputation of Los Angeles as the mecca of popular culture, Pop art’s natural home would seem to have been Los Angeles.  Andy Warhol’s first exhibition of Pop art images, his Campbell Soup Cans, took place at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles…” –Pop LA: Art and the City in the 1960’s

“LA’s postwar art scene:  Hot rods and hedonism

Los Angeles art came into its own after World War II, when artists such as Ed Kienholz, [Lynda Benglis] and Bill Al Bengston tapped into popular culture.”  —Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2011. 

The Scene

The 80s origins, referred to by local legend John Baldessari, were authenticated by the 2006 exhibition of LA art at the Pompidou Museum in Paris — titled ‘Los Angeles, 1955-1985: the Birth of an Art Capital’— and the “Pacific Standard Time” series of exhibitions initiated by the Getty Museum in 2011. 

·         Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin says, “New York is more a commercial center for art.  LA has become more a place where art is made.”
·         As recently as 2014, Downtown LA was described as a “sizzling heart of the art world global market.” 
·         “A place where low and high art meet,” says Cheryl West Petty.


Cheryl Petty, born 1949 Cheryl West, was raised in Southern California and moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to attend UCLA, where she received her BA in painting.  Influenced by Judy Chicago, Petty’s 80s paintings developed and anticipated trends in feminist art.

She lived the Downtown Los Angeles art scene before relocating to Dunsmuir, California in 1992.  She continued to explore art, stimulated by the beautiful location in the Sacramento River canyon at the base of Mt. Shasta and opened a gallery at the Window Box Nursery where she sold her landscape paintings and bonsai until she sold the business in 2011.  Petty’s website at Downtown Los Angeles 1985.