Check out upcoming shows at an optometry shop, a spa and a mattress store

By Kathy Leonardo

Artist Gus Harper with his “Minor Identity Crisis VII”

Artist Gus Harper with his “Minor Identity Crisis VII”

There was a time when high-quality art could only be found in galleries or museums, and a well-known artist would never consider an alternative venue.

Those days are long gone.

While restaurants like Upper West in Santa Monica and Hal’s Bar and Grill in Venice were first to run with the idea, serious art exhibitions are now popping up at retail stores and even spas. And these aren’t one-off pop-up events, but real art spaces with rotating exhibits.

Case in point: Essentia, an organic mattress store that’s building quite a reputation as an art venue.

About two years after the Canada-based company opened its first U.S. store on Main Street in Santa Monica, proprietor Lou D’Elia and his partner Mike Salazar approached the mattress store with the idea of showing art.

A founding member of what would become the photography council at LACMA, D’Elia is not new to the art world. He and Salazar have since managed to attract established artists such as Gabriel Figueroa (fresh off a LACMA retrospective) to display their work at Essentia.
A mattress store.

“We lovingly refer to the location as the ‘Los Angeles hot bed for art,’” D’Elia says. “If somebody is totally blown away by the art and falls over, at least they can fall back on a mattress.”

Essentia will host an opening reception for an exhibit by artist Gus Harper from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Titled “Minor Identity Crisis,” it features new paintings and an installation called “Kill the DJ.”

The installation, first hatched in Harper’s Venice studio, consists of arrows suspended from the ceiling and shooting toward a
DJ station.

“It looks like they are all going right into the heart of whoever is behind the DJ station,” says Harper. “Like many of the works in the upcoming show, it is about overcoming fear. It is very open to interpretation and, while it is about fear, it also infuses a sense of play into the location where it is installed.”

Main Street is a frequent stomping ground for Harper, a Santa Monica native.

“I always thought it was such an amazing place to hang art, and quite frankly I wondered how I could have a chance to show in there,” he says.

Essentia is at 2430 Main St. Call (310) 450-7819 or visit or for more information.

About seven blocks away, Eyes on Main — a Santa Monica fixture for 30 years — is currently showing work by Venice artist Mark Hobley.

Optician and owner Susan Sykes says she chooses an artist in very much the same way as she chooses which designers to show in her store: It’s all about originality. She allows artists to curate their own shows but says she looks for art that truly stands out and will have broad appeal.

“I trust my gut — it’s about having an instant connection with both,” she says. “A lot of frames we carry are from other countries and are rare to find in the US. Most of them are handmade in France, London, Denmark, Germany and Italy, to name a few locations. … Mark is one of those eccentric Venice locals. I love his work and it looks fabulous with all of our frames.”

For more information, call (310) 399-3302 or visit or

Julia Martin-Wrobel says her vision for her company, Mar Vista-based nitespa, first came to her in a dream.

“When my mother passed away, I had trouble sleeping. I would put myself to bed using creative visualization techniques and had visions of opening an off-beat salon art gallery.”

Being a night owl, she came up with the idea for nitespa, open from noon to 10 p.m. daily.

Martin-Wrobel says she was influenced by the San Francisco phenomenon that many salons double as art galleries there.

“I think art is important. It really makes the space whole,” she says. “I always wanted to have a rotating art gallery and started with the fabulous Natalia Fabia. Her painting ‘The Night Owls’ [depicting rock ’n’ roll burlesque dancers getting ready for a show] became famous in my shop.”

Michael Baroff (, Barbara Kosoff (, Michelle Oppenheimer ( and Stephanie Visser ( are currently the featured artists at nitespa, located on the second floor of 12024 Venice Blvd.

Call (310) 390-5122 or visit for more information.

An art-lover and artist in his own right, Armond Stansbury has shown his designs at the Pacific Design Center and has owned his own furniture store for more than 30 years — 18 of them on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. His shop, the Stansbury Collection, is now at 2816 Main St. in Santa Monica.

Born in Playa del Rey, Stansbury believes that keeping it local is important. Just about everything in his store is made in Greater Los Angeles — including a rotating exhibit of works by various artists, which he maintains year-round. Works by Jenny Maastricht (, Nicholas Blackham ( and Kalani DeWitt Lickle ( are currently on the walls.

“The art showcases the furniture beautifully,” Stansbury says. “It allows the customer to imagine the furniture in their home more easily.”

Call (310) 399-3928 or visit to find out more.

This is Aust, a Venice clothing boutique co-owned by Kristin Fedyk and Hannah Wang, has been showing art since it opened in 2013 at 1617 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Wang said that when looking for a new artist, she prefers to work with someone who is excited, positive and passionate about his or her work.

“I look for art that will ignite a thought, story or feeling in the viewer,” she says.

Now through May, that’s the photography of Christopher Parsons.

Call (310) 873-3303 or visit for more information.

The next time you’re out and about, keep your eyes out for art. It’s everywhere.