When Jules Muck’s car ran out of gas at the intersection of Electric and California Avenue in Venice, CA in 2008, she decided to just stay. Broke and with nowhere else to go, she resolved to make the neighborhood her home and, as she had done many times before, wrote her name on a wall: Muck.

“I used to write my name the whole way to school,” she said, recalling her childhood split between the UK, Greece and New York. “My parents moved around a lot and I never really felt a part of… and graffiti did that for me – it made me feel a part of. I was always a foreigner, wherever I went I was a foreigner… so to see my name on stuff made me feel like I was allowed to be there.”

That name, ‘Muck,’ or ‘Muck Rock,’ quickly spread to other walls around Venice, accompanied by vibrant, colorful, eye-catching murals. She soon drew attention and people stopped to talk to her as she worked.

“I met everybody just painting on the corner there, I mean everybody just embraced me,” she said. “It was just people that embraced and loved art and said ‘come paint here, come paint here!’”

She was invited to display her work in a show at Abbot’s Habit, a former local coffee shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

“It was so crazy,” she said. “The people that I met invited enough people that I sold enough art that I got an apartment the next day.”

Now, 15 years after her arrival, just a few blocks away from that same corner, she has purchased a house, converted it into a studio and is inviting the public in to see some of her lesser known work, including smaller canvases and oil paintings.

“I want people to see it because a lot of people are like ‘oh you paint on canvas?’ cause I think people just see the murals all the time,” she said. “I was in here painting and my friends were like ‘oh you should let people come check it out’ and so we started kind of setting it up like an open studio.”

One of those friends offered to help staff the studio, which is open on the weekends and, Muck added, whenever she gets bored.

From getting arrested to getting paid

It wasn’t until she was older that Muck accepted that she was an artist. Growing up, she always felt compelled to create art but never viewed it as a positive thing.

“I was painting out of a primal need to paint but I was getting arrested and I was getting scolded and I was always ashamed of it,” she said. “It was like that’s not important, that doesn’t help people… I wanted to be of service but I kept being dragged back to art.”

In the 1990s she was living in New York City and found herself in the midst of a resurgence of the graffiti and street art movement. She spent her nights running around with a group of others, spray painting on streets and rooftops.

“It really didn’t start as an artistic endeavor, it started more as like trying to be part of a new environment,” she said.

That started to change when she met iconic graffiti artist and muralist Lady Pink.

“I was on a rooftop in the Bronx and I think she saw me from the train or something and she came up on the roof,” Muck recalled. “I didn’t actually recognize her at first and I was painting and she was like ‘you need to add some orange in there’ and I was like, ‘who is this?’ I was just like ‘uh ok,’ but it actually was right and I did the orange and I was like ‘wow.’”

A friend she was with told her who the woman was and Muck then recognized her from a book she had read about graffiti art.

“As soon as he said ‘that’s Lady Pink,’ I got so scared I couldn’t even talk, I couldn’t say anything and then he gave her my number,” she remembered.

Lady Pink contacted Muck soon after and invited her to do a paid apprenticeship.

“It was like I went overnight from getting arrested to getting paid and it was such an honor,” Muck said.

Throughout the multi-year apprenticeship, she said the biggest thing she took away from her time with Lady Pink was a newfound sense of confidence and willingness to experiment and try new things with her art.

“She pushed me more into doing things like paintings and murals and elaborate works,” Muck said. “I actually don’t think I had the confidence until she told me to do it… when someone who’s your hero tells you ‘go paint this’ you’re going to try. She believed in me before I believed in me.”

Finding community through art

After years of painting on the streets of New York and other parts of the East coast, Muck was ready for something new. A friend invited her to join her in Los Angeles, so she did. But the living situation quickly fell through and that’s how she found herself in Venice – alone and living in her car, but still painting.

In the years since that day, she’s watched the community change in many ways. Abbot’s Habit, where she had her first show, is gone, rents have increased substantially and big-name chains have replaced smaller businesses. But Muck said she feels the sense of community is still strong.

“I still see a lot of the same people; I see Harry Perry playing guitar with his roller blades, I go to Gold’s Gym, I really try to be a part of the community,” she said.

She credits her painting with contributing to that sense of connection and said her views on art have changed drastically from her younger days. She now sees her art as a way of being of service and her work is frequently commissioned.

“Just doing murals everywhere has been a way that I’ve connected.” she said. “I’ve definitely acquired an understanding that art is important.”

Over the years, she has painted across the country and the world and said she has heard stories from people about the ways her art has touched them. One in particular that stuck with her was from a woman who came across a broken fence in New Orleans where Muck had painted two girls, one on each side. The woman said the image reminded her of her sister who she hadn’t spoken to in years. She called her that day.

“That was one of the turning points for me,” she said. “I was like, ‘well, this is important.’”

There is unique value in street art, she added, because it is accessible and can be viewed by anyone.

“I think it’s really important for people who don’t have time to go to galleries and museums, people who are rushing to work, working class people,” she said. “I think it’s important for kids whose parents don’t have time to take them to see art, they get to see and they love it – people who just don’t have the financial means to have art.”

She hopes her open studio, which is free to visit, will allow some of her works on canvas to have the same reach.

The studio

From the moment you walk into Muck’s studio, you are surrounded by the bold and vibrant colors that she has become known for.

“It’s funny because it’s not how I started,” she said. “I used to paint real dark stuff when I was younger, but now it’s just been joyful painting and just bright colors have naturally been coming out of me.”

She feels this is reflective of where she is in her life now, a point she has put in a lot of effort to get to.

“I got my life together, I cleaned myself up, I work so hard to mentally remain sound, to do some meditation and all this stuff to try to be healthy and I think that comes out in the art,” she said. “I’ve been working for the last ten years on being really clear, clear minded – no medications that are mind-altering, no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes…”

She helped found a non-profit organization called Muck Recovery that provides support and resources to artists struggling with addiction to aid them in reaching that same place.

“I’ve found that I can check out from myself more by being clear, and putting my ego and what I want to do aside and kind of just channeling what comes,” she said.

“That’s not to say that every now and then something dark won’t come out,” she added, gesturing to a canvas featuring Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh sitting on a chair set against a backdrop of flames.

Much of the work on display in the open studio features cartoon characters from her childhood and other symbols and icons she hopes people recognize and relate to, but with her own unique touches.

“I paint these really bright pictures, but there’s like a twist, there’s something there that tells a different story,” she said. “I think there’s a dichotomy to things and I’ve always used that in my paintings – there’s a good and there’s a bad, there’s a pretty and there’s an ugly and we wouldn’t have anything without the other.”

She said she likes to leave her art open to interpretation and welcomes individuals to develop their own ideas about it.

“I try to remain really not attached to the specificity of it because I don’t always see it until afterwards and there’s been many times where someone has looked at a piece and explained it to me in a way that I never thought of and sometimes it’s way better than what I thought it was” she said with a laugh. “So I don’t like to label them.”

While she loves connecting with people over her art, she said the studio environment is different from chatting with people on the street while she works.

“Sometimes I’m here, sometimes I’m not because I feel a little shy about it,” she admitted. “It’s like ‘here are my insides on display’.”

So far, reception to the open studio has been overwhelmingly positive. Muck said she has plans to start hosting events and workshops in the space and keep it open for the foreseeable future.

“As long as people want to come check it out, we’ll have it,” she said.

The open studio is located at 511 Santa Clara Avenue, Venice, 90291 and is open regularly Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.. The first workshop is scheduled for Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. For more information and to get tickets email julesmuck@gmail.com or visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/muckrock-talk-paint-fundraiser-tickets-521039421937

grace@smdp.com

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...