The first thing I noticed about the artwork near the corner of Fountain and Western avenues in South Hollywood was the color.
It was a collage of painted planks representing every shade of Southern California weather, cloudy white and misty blue next to the slate gray of rainy days and the deep cerulean of summer. It reminded me of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s abstract color blocking.
The second thing I noticed about the mosaic was that it served as a billboard for a small auto body shop called EndZon Automotive.
I decided that I wanted to meet the auto mechanic who saw the sky with such an artistic eye. So I knocked on the door.
Michael Yeghish, 43, of Glendale, had never heard of Mondrian and, other than taking a ceramics class in Armenia, had no formal training as an artist.
He named his body shop EndZon because so many other businesses were already called the “end zone.” And he built the room because he wanted to put up a fence after finding some needles and trash in his driveway. He found a contractor who quoted a price he thought was exorbitant, so Yeghish decided to do it himself.
The project started out as a fence, but he soon became preoccupied with finding the right colors. He kept coming back to Home Depot for more wood and paint. She wanted the business to look good and thought of it as his territory. He planned to add lights and more signs to promote his business, but Yeghish is a busy man with many projects and soon had to move on to the next one.
Most of his art is like that: a rest stop on the way to more important concerns, like paying rent, taking on an expensive mortgage, or trying to build a back unit to help pay said mortgage payments.
“I’m not… I don’t know any artist. But I thought, to make a good image, you have to have nice colors in your vision. As long as the colors come together,” Yeghish said.
It was a reminder that people like Yeghish, who immigrated from Armenia in 1997 when he was 20, often don’t have the time or opportunity to pursue art as a career. He can hardly imagine art as a profession.
“There is no artwork,” Yeghish said. “Where am I going to make art? Do you call in the car?
Body work, on the other hand, is always there for Yeghish. He learned the family trade from him.
“Cars on the street, you have work. My grandfather told me that,” she said.
When we met last week, Yeghish was juggling customers, employees and a constantly ringing cell phone as his dinner, a forgotten Taco Bell box, went cold on a counter behind him.
He was tall and skinny, sporting a goatee, beret, and leather jacket, a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses clipped to his neck. He spoke in rapid bursts and incomplete sentences, punctuating his points with long-fingered hands that seemed made for brushes rather than paint guns.
I asked him why he takes the time to make art when he seems to have so much on his plate.
“Well, basically, if you can do something, why not?” Yeghish said.
As we talked, it became clear that art is simply something you enjoy, not something you think about. He described a vision of a painting that he wanted to do with paint splatters, but had never heard of Jackson Pollock. His favorite piece of art is a painting of a cat that hangs in his house; she came with the house and doesn’t know the artist. But the colors are amazing, she said.
Inside the body shop, on the office and bathroom doors, his friend had painted elaborate fantasy landscapes. Along one wall, a large Tupperware dresser stored a mix of car tools and art supplies. On his desk, a cup contained a group of dry ballpoint pens and a thin, flat drawing pencil.
Yeghish makes art for himself, and that’s enough for him.
“The best part of knowing something that you know you know, that no one can take it away from you, you know you can do what you can do,” he said.
You have a lot more to worry about. He is stressed by an impending argument with his landlord over rent, as well as mortgage payments on the house he couldn’t afford, which he bought to show his family that he could fend for himself. He opened his new auto body business just two days before quarantine restrictions hit Los Angeles in 2020, and business has been slow.
The main reason she’s trying to get her life together is so she can spend more time with her 11-year-old daughter. He beamed when she described how happy she gets for her when he takes her to the arcade. He knows that her energy affects her, so she tries to stay positive.
“I’m trying to be stronger than I am. I am trying to do everything by myself,” Yeghish said. “I don’t know where or how I’m going to do it. But that is the right decision to make. I don’t want him to see that his dad is giving up.”
In the midst of all these worries, my questions about his art seemed insignificant. Still, meeting Yeghish gave me a greater appreciation for art, art that can be made by people who are otherwise too busy to pay rent, raise children, and fix cars. I’m glad to know that there are people like Yeghish, doing beautiful things that are not the end point of a profit-maximizing capitalist process.
Yeghish has big plans for his next piece of art, which hangs unfinished in his office. It is a photorealistic pencil rendering of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, with forced perspective showing the statue looking down on the city. The lower half of the drawing is blank.
In that space Yeghish wants to draw “the whole world, the whole city”. He whenever he has time for it.