POM Magazine

POM Magazine, Magazine voor Stijl & Cultuur

POM Magazine

Austin- An odd one in Texas?

When POM Magazine asked me to do an interview, I was surprised. To investigate a city in Texas, an American State haunted by the image of cowboys, red-necks and conservatism? Also, I didn’t know anything about Austin. That changed after I interviewed Dutch visual artist, Steef Crombach. She works and lives in Austin and lives the Austin life! In this article she explains what makes Austin so special.

By Klaartje Til

Steef, you have been coming to Austin for a couple of years. Can you tell me about this city?
Austin is the capital of Texas. That is a bit strange since Houston is much bigger. Austin isn’t conservative at all, which is often the case with cities where the government is located. But Austin is very liberal and remarkably different from the rest of Texas. It is sometimes said that people live in their own bubble. That you only meet people who have the same lifestyle and opinion as yourself. In Austin that bubble, and the border of that bubble is palpable and visible. As soon as you drive forty minutes from Austin you find yourself in small villages where you experience conventional Texas. And that’s really the opposite of what you see in Austin.

Why is Austin not like the rest of Texas?
It is both an intellectual and a real tech city, because of the University of Texas Austin with over 50,000 students. So there are a lot of young people. People come to Austin all year round because of the music. People from liberal cities such as New York and San Francisco, travel to Austin. The motto of Austin is: Keep Austin Weird. Today that is not as relevant as it was in the past. Hippies came to Austin, especially during the sixties and seventies. Since then, the music has come to Austin. Most parents of people I know that live here, are still hippies. Of course their children all get that. Buying organic products is normal here. The first branch of the organic supermarket chain, Whole Foods Market, started in Austin. And it is still here.

I didn’t know Austin is a big music town.
Bars, restaurants, and hotels are expected to have live music all the time. As a musician you can easily live off your performances. That is why many musicians come to Austin. So the variety of music increases, for which, people come to Austin. It is a circle that holds itself. There are a lot of annual music events such as South-by-South-West and Austin City Limits. And every two weeks there is a free festival called, Blues on the Green, attracting 8,000 visitors. Actually, there are free festivals here almost weekly.

Austin is on the Colorado river. Does that impact the city?
Nature is part of Austin. There are beautiful natural springs with ice cold water and rare salamanders. Barton Spring Pool for example, is a spring that is also a pool which continues to flow into the Colorado River. You can hang out there in the sun all day and sunbathe topless, which is very unusual in America. In general, people in America are very prudent. However, you can’t eat there, just drink water. Next to Barton Springs are the Barking Springs, because you are allowed to take your dog there. You can see the different segments of society lying next to each other, with a small metal fence in between. On one side there is the natural swimming pool with water drinking visitors. On the other side there is a water stream where dogs can walk around and people drink alcohol and play loud music. From these water springs, you can easily row or kayak through the city centre on the Colorado River. You will eventually sail under the Congress Bridge, also called the bat bridge because there are so many bats. So many, that the air turns black when they fly out every evening.

Tell me about the neighbourhoods of Austin. How do they differ from each other?
Until recently, the State Capitol building was the tallest building in Austin, because nothing in the city was allowed to be higher. That rule was abolished ten years ago. So all skyscrapers of the Austin skyline are ten years old or younger. But in general, there are many low-rise buildings in Austin. You often think you are in a bungalow park. Nightlife is in the historic city centre, on East 6th street, with bars that have balconies where you can stand. Near East 6th street is Rainey street. The story goes that a woman once started a bar there in her home. The bar was very successful and the rest of the neighbourhood decided to do the same. So in Rainey street there are residential houses that are now bars. In downtown Austin there are modern apartment buildings with a swimming pool in the courtyard. There are also many, many hotels. They usually have a swimming pool on the top floor. Often, non-guests are allowed to swim in those pools. Just outside the entertainment centre is Clarksville. This is a historic district where most houses are one floor high, have a porch with pillars and huge lawns. In the eastern part of the city, East Austin, people with less money used to lived there, until recently. East Austin is now flooded with galleries, museums and other creative projects that left downtown because of the high rents. Many buildings in East Austin are from the sixties and seventies. The neighbourhood is run down, but the inhabitants paint their houses in all possible colours and sometimes even line it with mosaic. Most young people live a ring further away from the city centre. That is a neighbourhood with a lot of apartment complexes. They are sometimes housed in enormous buildings with a swimming pool and a communal laundry room. Around these complexes a sort of new city centre is created with a large supermarket, shops and a nice park. The Domain is such a centre. These pre-programmed social meeting points don’t work in the Netherlands, but they do in Austin.

Do you notice the cowboy culture in Austin?
There are cowboys in Austin- people riding on horseback and who own a small farm near the historic centre of Austin. There is country-dancing in some bars and saloons. But most cowboys are republicans, think guns and the rough life. But, when is a person a cowboy? I sometimes work in the fields just outside Austin, helping a local brewery. They grow their hop there. Working in the fields you really need to wear long sleeves, long trousers, a hat, gloves and a piece of cloth to cover your nose against the sand and dust. You need to wear high boots because of the snakes. You look like a cowboy wearing functional clothing that protects and is needed for your work.

What do you call a person born and raised in Austin?
An Austinite, and you are only an Austinite if you were born in Austin. Because so many people from other cities moved to Austin, there are not many Austinites. Austinites are calm and down to earth. They will show their true character even though it may be the first time you meet them. There are no courtesies. You don’t have to guess what they mean with what they say. They are friendly people, down to earth, and they have a strong bond with nature.

Illustration: Auke Triesschijn

When I think of Los Angeles, I think of the movies, Hollywood and showbiz. After my interview with Camilla Lonis I now have a very different picture of Los Angeles. Camilla Lonis has lived in Los Angeles for several years. She works in LA, in an art gallery called Subliminal, owned by the graphic artist, Shepard Fairey, she designs for the OBEY Clothing brand and is also Studio Number One’s, design director. Camilla’s keyword for Los Angeles is culture. Car culture, tattoo culture, street culture, music culture, imported culture; those palm trees were not originally part of the LA street scene. In this article Camilla explains what makes Los Angeles so special.

By Klaartje Til

Los Angeles makes me think of glitz, glamour, Hollywood, showbiz and celebrities. Is that really the case?
If you live here, it is almost impossible not to meet famous people. The glitzy glamour Hollywood Hills lifestyle is definitely Los Angeles. LA has many neighbourhoods and they all are different. Together they form Los Angeles. Echo Park and Silver Lake, for example, are areas where you see people walking down the street, dressed entirely in ‘70s outfits. That is their daily outfit. If you drive a little further, you would arrive in a neighbourhood with a lot of Mexican culture.

What else do you notice about the influence of Mexico in Los Angeles?
LA is close to the Mexican border, you’ll be in Mexico in no time, it is a beautiful country. The Mexican border is also a place where people who try to enter the USA illegally, are arrested and detained in prison. However, LA has programs that help people who are illegal here. They have no papers, no social security number, but they can get health care. They can also, for example, get their driver’s licence here in LA.

Where do you think this solidarity comes from?
People with a Mexican background are the majority of the population in LA. If the city is not supportive of them, it will malfunction.

What is the reputation of Los Angeles both in and outside of California?
A city where everyone is dressed in yoga outfits and everyone has star power. Everyone is super arrogant and there is zero culture. People who are here on holiday visit the famous sights. They go to Hollywood Boulevard to visit the Walk of Fame, where there are also a lot of tramps. They see the big contrast between rich and poor. That can be confronting. They visit Beverly Hills and see excessive luxury and visit Rodeo Drive with its intense brand presence. However, these are not the things that make LA.

And what makes LA? How can I find out, if I visit Los Angeles?
You have to go all the way down Sunset Boulevard. It’s a very long street that runs through different neighbourhoods. You start at the beach and head for Hollywood. After you have passed the Hollywood Walk of Fame you’ll arrive in Los Feliz, which is a calmer neighbourhood. After Los Feliz, you enter the hipster areas Silver Lake, and Echo Park, and continue driving to get to downtown LA. If you drive on Sunset Boulevard, you will see all the areas that make up LA. I sometimes drive on that street just for fun because it’s beautiful. You should also visit East LA. It is the oldest part of Los Angeles with a lot of Mexican culture. South LA is very different too. It’s a vast area, not at all touristy and full of culture. Of course the beach is important in Los Angeles. I love Malibu with its beaches. It is also a great place for hiking.

A lot of rappers sing about Malibu beach don’t they?
You know, once you live here you discover that every part of LA is being rapped about (laughs).

Why is rap so big in LA?
Many famous rappers grew up here. Maybe it has to do with the LA gang culture. These gangs are  not just a few groups of people hanging around, having fun. They operate in their own way and there are certain rules for that. It’s a different way of growing up. It’s a bit rougher and perhaps you therefore feel more creativity and freedom, and the need to express yourself. In LA, that often happens with rap and graffiti.

Is Los Angeles a culinary city?
The food culture is very good, but you need to know where to go. There is an infinite number of  fantastic Mexican restaurants. Food trucks are an important part of the food culture here. On Friday and Saturday nights you see a lot of food trucks, sometimes even cocktail trucks, in streets where a lot of restaurants are located. Then you walk down the street and get a food-fill here, a taco there, and a cocktail from one of the trucks. It’s all very relaxed. But there are also extremes. LA has many super chic restaurants. They serve smaller portions and are beautifully decorated.

What do you call a typical LA person?
An Angelino and an Angelina. You have to have balls to be one. Whether you’re an LA native or you come to live here, you have to stand up. Of course, that’s in every big city. But this city is vaster, so you need to make yourself at home. If you don’t stand firmly you won’t find your way in LA. Even if you are born and raised here, you still have to fight for what you believe in. Angelinos and Angelinas have been through a lot, they are not afraid of anything. The atmosphere in LA is electric, there is so much to do and so much happening here.

It sounds electric, passionate, motivated and uninhibited.
People are definitely uninhibited. And if you want to achieve something in LA, you have to work really hard. There is a lot of competition. People come to LA from all over America and the rest of the world. It’s a mix of people who all want to make something of themselves. You have to be career focused and even then not everyone succeeds. Some people don’t make it.

How can you tell that someone is from LA?
By the respect for the culture that already exists here. It’s the way people treat each other here. I notice that people who have just arrived in LA, talk differently to tramps and the homeless. They have less respect for the fact that people could be armed. Angelinos and Angelinas respect the fact that there is a culture in which commanding respect is important. It results in very nuanced behaviour that people show to each other out of respect.

Designer in Los Angeles-Camilla Lonis

Camilla Lonis lives in Los Angeles where she works for graffiti artist, Shepard Fairey. She designs for the OBEY Clothing fashion brand, and is the design director of Studio Number One. Camilla talked to Klaartje Til about her life in Los Angeles and explains why she loves Los Angeles so much.

Camilla how did you end up in Los Angeles?
After I graduated from art school in Rotterdam, I worked for several years as a freelance designer in the Netherlands. At some point I started receiving more and more assignments from agencies abroad; especially from agencies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. So I decided to visit those cities. I assumed that I wouldn’t find LA that exciting. But once I got there, I quickly changed my mind.

Why did you assume that Los Angeles wouldn’t be so exciting?
San Francisco seemed more interesting to me. There is a hippie culture, the people are more relaxed, there is beautiful nature. I had a certain image of LA, a flat city with a lot of palm trees, hot weather and people with attitude. But that wasn’t the case at all. However, it is true that LA is a city where you need a car. It’s hard to get anywhere without a car or driving license. As soon as I drove through LA, the way I thought about the city changed. It’s not one city but thirty towns that form Los Angeles. That was a surprise to me.

What made you stay in Los Angeles?
Art and my work as designer. A few months after I moved to Los Angeles I met Shepard Fairey by accident. He is a successful American street artist. He hired me to work as design director for his art gallery, Subliminal.

Shepard Fairey is a big name in the contemporary art scene. How was it to be hired by him to work for him?
It felt bizarre. I read about him in art books when I was still at art school. I admired him enormously and a few years later I was sitting at the table with him. In no time I started to work for him. Shepard is the creative director of Obey Giant and Subliminal, and I work directly for him. I am often called to help choose between one design or another, for a poster he is working on. He always looks and listens very carefully to what is happening around him. He is open to other opinions and his art has a positive influence. That inspires me.

You also design for OBEY Clothing. What is the typical LA look?
That depends very much on the neighbourhood. In Echo Park people dress super casual: vintage jeans of good quality, but old, with a clean T-shirt, blank with a single, small graphic design. Don’t try too hard, that’s not cool. Actually, you can’t dress as “a LA person”. There are so many cultures so there isn’t one LA look.

And to which culture do you belong?
In everyday life I work in Echo Park. I am an artist and I listen to punk and metal music. Street art influences my work. But I also go out in Beverly Hills and then I wear fancy clothing. When I go to a party in West Hollywood I dress cooler. That’s what I like about this city, there are so many different cultures.

You work in the design world. Is design important in Los Angeles?
Design and art is important for the city. There is much to see, so much to do. A lot of museums have free entrance. The art scene is young. Graffiti art is important, very visible and an important form of expression in LA. If you look at Shepard Fairey’s work, you’ll notice that he has made countless murals. They often became a movement. Because I do a lot of graphic design for local projects at Studio Number One, I often see my posters, banners and murals in LA. At some point I became the creator of the LA culture. That’s a serious responsibility. It means that I have to create with respect for the people who are actually from here, the LA natives.

What is the biggest adjustment you had to make, when you arrived to live in LA?
I had to get used to the way people drive here. They drive like crazy and then there are also these eight-lane highways in the city. But if you love the city, you want to be in every neighbourhood, so then you have to drive. The city is a grid and I can get everywhere very quickly via the road network, no matter how far a location is. The highways are built in such a way that you are suddenly at your destination. Los Angeles is easy to access as long as you have a car. And as long as you drive outside the rush hour (laughs).

Subscribe to our newsletter

If you browse this website, you agree with the placement of cookies. More information Hide this message