Still Making Art and Acting Tough

Sculptor James Croak in a still from the film "Young Turks."

Sculptor James Croak in a still from the film “Young Turks.”

croak announcementJames Croak, one of the sculptors profiled in “Young Turks,” will be having an exhibit of his work starting Thursday (March 28, 2013) in Miami.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Croak lived and worked in the firehouse at the heart of Skid Row on 5th Street, “Nickel Street, as they call it,” he says in the film. Director Stephen Seemayer interviewed Croak while he was working on a large sculpture called “Vegas Jesus,” which was later shown as part of the “Young Turks” exhibit at the Downtown Gallery in 1981.

James Croak. "Vegas Jesus" (1982)

James Croak. “Vegas Jesus” (1982)

In the film, Croak talks about living in one of the toughest sections of Downtown L.A. “I’ve seen six or seven murders in the last two years here,” he says. “I personally found two of the Skid Row Slasher victims.” Croak says such harrowing experiences led to a fascination with violence that influenced his work. Many of his sculptures in the 1980s featured dead animals — including “Vegas Jesus” with its crucified lamb — but the violent overtones were countered with a whimsical humor and mythical grandeur.

After leaving Los Angeles in the late ’80s, Croak moved to New York and has been working and exhibiting regularly. In 1999, Thomas McEvilly wrote a great monograph on Croak’s body of work, which is available on amazon.com.

Other Turks in the News

In April, Jon Peterson‘s 40 years of work will be the focus of a retrospective at LA Artcore (both galleries), as well as a book with essays by Peter Plagens and Constance Mallinson. Also next month, Stephen Seemayer will have a show of new paintings at the District Arts Gallery.

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Dog Days

The Dog Track was a burrito stand feeding starving artists and produce workers 24/7 at the corner of Olympic and Central.

The Dog Track was a burrito stand feeding starving artists and produce workers 24/7 at the corner of Olympic and Central. (Photo by Stephen Seemayer)

First in a series of nostalgic remembrances of places past in Downtown Los Angeles

Bob & Bob's artistic interpretation of dinner at the Dog Track.

Bob & Bob’s artistic interpretation of dinner at the Dog Track.

At the northeast corner of Olympic and Central, there once stood the greasiest of greasy spoons, the Dog Track, a burrito stand with a neon sign that at one time showed lighted Greyhounds chasing a rabbit around the circular base of its rooftop sign.

Open 24/7, the Dog Track’s main clientele were the workers who loaded produce on and off trucks at the neighboring Wholesale Produce Market.

Stephen Seemayer at his studio on Central Avenue. (Photo by Pamela Wilson)

Stephen Seemayer at his studio on Central Avenue. (Photo by Pamela Wilson)

But the artists who lived downtown, especially “Young Turks” director Stephen Seemayer — whose studio was directly across the street — knew that the Dog Track was the best place for a carnitas burrito at 3:30 in the morning. (It’s not that the food was the greatest, but the place was open — quite a selling point in the downtown of 1980.)

Seemayer’s 851 S. Central studio was condemned after the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake. But the Dog Track had already been lost in the expansion of the Produce Market in 1984.

Stay Tuned

Andy Wilf and friend in a scene from "Young Turks."

Andy Wilf and friend in a scene from “Young Turks.”

The three-week theatrical run of “Young Turks” has ended, but there still may be a few surprise screenings in the offing. Keep checking back with this website to find out news for the film called “a kaleidoscopic melange of Hollywood’s B-movie corn, bizarre underground existence and a few naked truths.”

Also, the DVD and online releases will be announced later this spring. You’ll find that information here as well.