Art imitating life
Watercolor renderings preserve the memory of a cultural landmark
By Michel Cicero 03/04/2010
When Christopher Lindsay (C.L.) Higgins began painting scenes from the corner of Palm and Main Streets in downtown Ventura, it wasn’t so much in protest of the impending demolition of Top Hat Burger — though he was in favor of preserving it — it simply seemed a worthwhile effort to document through art, the abundance of life there. Worthwhile enough to find him perched at various proximities of the lively intersection much of nearly every day, for six months in 2005. The resulting Top Hat series is a gentle visual depiction of the burger stand’s milieu — vis- à-vis a distinct, diverse and devoted clientele.
Those who don’t understand, often ask what the great tragedy is for a flimsy fast food stand to close down. And while many will lament the loss of their favorite burger, it is the culture surrounding the place — the history, the people, the stories — that caused people to wait for several hours for one last experience there just days before it was boarded up. Of his precious time there, Higgins said he’d be “the happiest man on earth if every project played out that way.”
Most of the original 30 paintings in the watercolor series were sold years ago, but seven remain. They are for sale through April 4, at Red Brick Gallery in Ventura, and range in price from $400 to $1,600.
The idea of staking out a location teeming with people is not a new one for Higgins, who also spent untold hours in Antibes, France, taking in “the human saga” that took place in and around the terraced cafes there. His observations there were of course vastly different from those of the sleepy seaside environs of downtown Ventura, but no less important. “It’s truly an icon of Americana that we lost here.”
Like other fans of the unofficial city landmark that was recently forced to close its doors, Higgins would have liked to see a more creative response to the property owners’ desire to develop the location, something within their rights to do. But for now, there is nothing left to do but remember.
“[It was] quite a significant hub of Downtown Ventura — a crossroads for a complete cross section of the community,” said Higgins. “[From the] wealthy, to the poorest from the river bottom, and all interacting on a hospitable level, because they normally stop there to eat. And Jack was handing out food to somebody who didn’t have the means to pay, right next to the city manager or mayor. It was a very enriching experience.”
Prints from the entire series may also be ordered through Higgins’ Web site, www.clhiggins.com. Reception will be held on March 6, 6-9 p.m. at Red Brick Gallery, 315 E. Main St., Ventura. 643-6400, www.RedBrickArt.com.