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Thoughts on Pharmaka - Laura Hipke

During one of my early visits to Pharmaka, I walked into the gallery to find John Scane sitting behind the front desk with his camera fixed on the back wall of the gallery. I was puzzled by what he was trying to capture because to my eye the wall seemed to be completely void of anything worth photographing. It only took a couple of seconds for me to see what John had been seeing during the long hours of sitting in the gallery. Every 20 minute or so a bus would pass by on Main Street. The reflection of the afternoon sun off of the bus windows would flash into the gallery, and when the traffic light outside would change the whole room seemed to spin as shadows and flashes of light filled the room and raced across the gallery walls in the opposite direction of the rushing traffic. The Pharmaka logo would appear for a split second on the wall behind the front desk. Each time John would check the display on the back of his camera. I don't know how many times he must have tried before he captured it.

I found Pharmaka in 2005 after going on a rainy guided tour of the galleries in the downtown Los Angeles. I had heard good things about the downtown Art Walk but after driving there in my car I was afraid to park and get out. Gallery Row was only a couple of blocks away from skid row so I ended up taking the guided tour of downtown galleries with Ashley Emeneger and one of those uniformed officers we called the "Purple Police". We stopped at Pharmaka along the way and John Scane spoke about how the gallery came to be and what they were trying to achieve. John was just so accessible and open. He possessed something that was truly remarkable. An unusual mixture of truth, directness and humility. I couldn't quite put my finger on it and as the tour made its way through the streets of Los Angeles I couldn't get Pharmaka out of my head. I wanted to know more about it and the other people involved. I gobbled up every bit of information I could find about their exhibitions and publications. I was hungry for a meaningful dialogue with other artists. I felt that these were artists who were reaching for something that was really missing in the art world and they were willing to put themselves out there to find it. They were an inclusive group not exclusive or elitist. They were generous with their time and feedback sometimes spending hours talking with other artists or collectors who came there seeking that intangible that was missing from other galleries. I went to Pharmaka every chance I got. I would show up for their openings but my favorite thing to do was to come to the gallery on a weekday at 2 o'clock. It was quiet there in the afternoon. I would find a chair and talk with whomever was sitting the gallery that day, Vonn Sumner, Timothy Isham, Michael Rosenfeld, Fumiko Amano and Shane Guffogg. I learned that Shane was at the gallery every Thursday and so I went there every Thursday. We had long discussions about why we make art. This may seem like a simple question but it consumed me at that time. If he grew tired of speaking with me he never let it show. I baked cookies and tagged along like a stray cat and I guess I hung around the gallery so much that the "Phamakans" decided I was one of them. Eventually I was invited to come to their meetings. I would sit quietly and marvel at their courage (or audacity depending on who was speaking.) I would pick up little treasures in the conversation and put them in my pocket, mulling over them in the days that followed. 

Laura Hipke

Pharmaka Gallery was located at 5th & Main, downtown Los Angeles from 2005 - 2010. Unfortunately I lost those images on an old computer.

Pharmaka Gallery was located at 5th & Main, downtown Los Angeles from 2005 - 2010.

Unfortunately I lost those images on an old computer.