An artist’s studio is a special place, a safe haven of inspiration that can represent an artist just as much as the work. Some, however, are even more. They are places that can have an impact on entire neighborhoods and communities. For artist and activist Leo Martinez, The Lab 805 is not only both of those things, but it has also become a staple of the underground movement in Ventura County.

Born and raised in Ventura, Martinez started The Lab 805 (known by many as simply The Lab) in the Oxnard neighborhood of El Rio in 2008. Growing up a passionate art and music enthusiast, he and like-minded friends took over a dilapidated building and turned it into a fully functioning art studio, graffiti shop and performance space.

 


Front view of the shop

No surprise, a hangout for graffiti artists that was also actively holding hip-hop and punk shows was instantly popular with young music and art fans in the area. It wasn’t, however, quite as popular with local law enforcement officers who, as Martinez puts it, “were not big fans,” and consequently Martinez and company began a long battle with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, primarily over code enforcement and permitting.

Martinez then moved The Lab to another Oxnard neighborhood, Nyeland Acres, near the Camarillo border, and encountered similar problems. After the two-year lease expired there, he headed to Saticoy.

Far off the beaten path, the almost-frozen-in-time East Ventura neighborhood finally provided The Lab with a permanent and welcoming home. Now the studio, which can be spotted easily by the massive mural of comic book characters on the exterior walls, is getting ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary, and Martinez couldn’t be busier.

To pay the bills, the 31-year-old Martinez operates The Lab as a graphic studio, with a reputation for its elaborate vehicle wraps that range from the simplistic to the artistic, often transforming ordinary cars and motorcycles into works of art. The Lab also stays true to its graffiti roots by selling spray paint and offering wall space for graffiti artists to work — legally. In addition, Martinez offers screen printing services, working closely with several well-known artists in the underground music and art communities. While no longer hosting concerts as it did at the Oxnard location, The Lab is still heavily involved in local event promotion for everything from concerts and protests to mixed martial arts events.

The Lab, of course, still holds art shows like the massive one it will be hosting for Abby Martin later this month. Martin, a noted journalist and activist best known for her time as the host of the show Breaking the Set, is also an accomplished artist. Out of all of the cities in the country where she could be exhibiting, she chose The Lab for one of her first art shows. It’s a true testament to The Lab’s respect in the underground community.

Whatever free time Martinez has outside of The Lab (it’s stunning that he has any), he devotes to local activism, working with the community organization Todo Poder al Pueblo.

Todo Poder al Pueblo is currently involved in bringing attention to the tragic case of Meagan Hockaday, a 26-year-old mother of three who was shot to death by an Oxnard police officer on March 28.

Having met with the victim’s family, Todo Poder al Pueblo has held a car wash and provided local businesses with donation boxes to help cover funeral expenses in addition to helping organize and promote a march against police brutality that is set to start at the Oxnard apartment complex where Hockaday was killed.

Suffice it to say, from his art to his activism, Martinez is a busy, busy man. He’s also a man who is never at a loss for words, and is enthusiastic about virtually every subject. Nevertheless, he does have trouble with one question:  What is The Lab 805?

“That’s actually a complicated question for me,” explains Martinez during a rare break from his work at The Lab. “I call it an activist creative studio, and that’s very much an extension of who I am personally.”


Justice for Meagan: The March Against Police Brutality will take place on Saturday, April 11, at 4 p.m. starting at The Timbers Apartments, 301 W. Vineyard Ave., Oxnard. For more information, visit www.todopoderalpueblo.org. The Abby Martin Art Show will take place on Saturday, April 17, at 5 p.m. at The Lab 805, 11137 Azahar St., Ventura. For more information, visit www.thelab805.com or call 607-1316.