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A Display Of Tiny Stuffed Monkeys: Inside Ron Piller’s Studio

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When I visited artist Ron Piller at his studio in Torrance, California, I was welcomed by the sound of Julio Iglesias. The music filled the space between paintings and dried resin spattered on the floor, the resin startling me each time I mistook it for broken glass. Nice music, I said.

“Julio sold a lot of dresses for me. The women would come in [to the store] and I would have Julio,” Piller said, dancing slightly to imitate the women of his father’s clothing store.

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Piller began selling his paintings last January at Artspace Warehouse in West Hollywood, California, after noticing the space on his way to lunch at the Fish Grill only two blocks from the gallery.

“I brought 19 little paintings over the first day and I was unloading and a woman went ‘I want that one, I want that one’, and I went ‘woah’. So that was the beginning of it.” Since then, Piller has sold close to 200 paintings from Artspace Warehouse’s galleries in Los Angeles and Zurich, Switzerland. Piller started painting full time after his father’s discounted men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and shoe store, Piller’s of Eagle Rock, closed in 2001 and ended Piller’s 35 year long career at the store. The year the store closed, Piller was approached by the Renaissance Arts Academy with the request to lease the building. Today, the building built by Piller’s father is being used to educate over 325 students each day.

“I am very grateful that the building is being used for such a wonderful purpose,” Piller said.

Piller’s accomplishments are not supported by a college degree or studies in art school, but the strong belief that you need to “follow your bliss,” he told me. After the 12th grade, Piller attended junior college for one semester “I was taking a business class, bought the books and everything and the [teacher] was so boring, so I went ‘wait, my father was born in Russia, didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was 12 years old [with] mud on the floor, came here and built a business and is really smart, street smart. Why am I wasting my time?’ I left the books, walked out of the class and never looked back. My professor was my father, the best.”

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It is Piller’s unconventional thinking and interest in the nuances of everyday life that distinguish his paintings. Listening to a story of when Piller visited the Taj Mahal showed me the unique way in which he absorbs our world. “Everybody’s taking pictures of the Taj Mahal and I’m taking pictures of the trashcan and I go ‘woah look at that mark on there!’ It’s a little crazy but that’s the stuff. My phone is filled with all kinds of walls and telephone polls because that’s the stuff that inspires me.”

This “stuff,” the small details in his work that peer through layers of paint and resin, keep your eyes sifting through the painting and curious about each level of the piece. “I create this [stuff] with newspaper,” he said while pointing to a speck of newspaper peaking through a finished painting. “I go to the Glatt Mart and the Israeli market and I pick up all the free magazines and I glue them on and I sand [them], and then I paint them with sort of a white wash to diffuse what’s happening.”

Piller’s first “studio” was in his home garage until his wife insisted he relocate because of the toxic fumes from the resin, which Piller uses to finish each of his paintings. “I have my man cave. I can come in the middle of the night and work, turn on the music, it’s good,” Piller said about his current studio. I scanned the room decorated with Piller’s paintings, some hanging, some lining the wall in rows of three or four and some propped atop wooden legs. The paintings that lay flat on the bare wooden legs appeared to me as very functional, Ron Piller-inspired dining tables.

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I had to ask, as an undecided 23-year-old, what does someone who successfully redirected their career path after 35 years have to say to confused, and sometimes discouraged, young adults? “Find something that you love, and go into it. Follow it, make it, do it, it’s really important. When you’re looking at a white canvas or a blank board just go and do something on it, then maybe you don’t like it, but you can react to it and then it becomes relationship,” he answered.

And how do you name your paintings? I asked.

Piller smiled as he picked up the book House of Holes, flipped to a random page and read aloud, “ ‘A display of tiny stuffed monkeys’, that would be the name of one of my paintings. I always like things that are happy,” he said, then continued reading,“ ‘droplets of happiness’….‘a huge mound of every color’. Any book, I use a lot from Henry Miller, he has great little sentences.”

Sasha Bortnik

Sasha is a native Angeleno, creative non-fiction and lifestyle writer, food enthusiastic, and nothing shy of a coffee snob. Yup. She just is. After spending four years in Tucson, Arizona she got way too hot and came back home. Each day begins as a quest to find a new restaurant, a new bar, and anything, well, “cool” that’s happening in this city, along with the constant planning of when her next travel venture will be.

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