Veteran Venice artists Frank Strasser and Margaret Molloy team up at Hama Sushi in support of a memorial for Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II

By Michael Aushenker

“April on Retro Canal,” a painting by Venice artist Frank Strasser, is part of Sunday’s fundraiser exhibit

“April on Retro Canal,” a painting by Venice artist Frank Strasser, is part of Sunday’s fundraiser exhibit

Painter Frank Strasser and photographer Margaret Molloy both moved to Venice in 1979 — the same year Hama Sushi opened its doors on Windward Circle.

At the restaurant on Sunday, Strasser and Molloy will exhibit and sell art celebrating the neighborhood they chose to call home while paying tribute to Japanese Americans who, 35 years before their arrival, were forcibly removed in a xenophobic panic during World War II.

Sponsored by the Venice Arts Council, the event will forward proceeds from art and food sales to help pay for installation of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker at 933½ Venice Blvd. — an infamous spot where, in April 1942, officers of a Civil Control Station boarded more than 1,000 local Japanese Americans on buses bound for Manzanar War Relocation Authority Camp located, ironically, near Independence, Calif.

A committee formed to support the monument includes many who were sent to the camps with only those possessions they could carry.

For Strasser and Molloy, Venice was a much more welcoming place.

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Molloy has in the past 35 years lived all over Venice — by the canals, off Abbot Kinney Boulevard and today near Venice High—and  has worked as a photojournalist for several news outlets, including the Santa Monica Mirror from 2001 through 2011.

“I traversed all beats. You see aspects of community life that I lot of people don’t get to see,” Molloy said. “Community journalism is very powerful. It’s life up close.”

Molloy will bring 16 prints “representing the creative spirit of Venice” to Hama Sushi for Sunday’s event, she said.

From Strasser’s colorful, quasi-surreal tributes to Venice — paintings such as “Blue Canal,” in which the bridge and its reflection formulate a kind of third eye, and “Eclectic Avenue,” alive with caricatures of Venice denizens — his connection to the neighborhood is apparent.

A self-taught artist, Strasser grew up in Culver City and got the art bug as a child after receiving a paint set for Christmas. After earning his degree in English literature at Loyola Marymount University, Strasser headed for Europe, where he was inspired by Impressionist works, and then Mexico, where he sang in a house band at an outdoor club in Puerto Vallarta.

Upon his return to Los Angeles, Strasser said he “lucked into a little place in Venice on the canals” and wound up singing for the canal-inspired band The Canaligators, which performed during the 2005 Venice Centennial. Speaking of a mystical connection with Jim Morrison, Strasser has twice landed singing gigs for his ability to belt out songs by Venice’s The Doors.

While in Mexico, “I missed funky book stores, diverse people, intellectual stimulation. More than anything, it’s the diversity of culture here,” he said of what brought him back to L.A.’s Westside.

With his Venice studio currently undergoing a renovation, Strasser will be showing canvas Giclée prints representing acrylics created in the last 15 years.

In November, Molloy exhibited at UCLA in a show titled “Local Witness: Old. Disabled. Homeless.”

That solo exhibition — “an examination of creativity; of people, street performers, mostly around the Boardwalk,” she said — is just one genre of Venice photography in her portfolio.

“I tend to shoot many things concurrently. I always have different threads going,” Molloy said.

“Documenting Venice is very important to me because it’s such a unique place; it’s a very generous community,” she said. “It’s a very tolerant community and I love that.”

The reception and fundraiser for the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker is from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Hama Sushi, 213 Windward Ave., Venice. Call (310) 396-8783 or visit hamasushi.com.

michael(at)argonautneews.com

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