by Pablo CapraArtwork by Dani Katz
In the final years of the bohemian Rodeo Grounds community, artists James Mathers and his girlfriend have created a wild local art scene in their sprawling ramshackle residence on the controversial property that Lower Topangans must finally turnover to State Parks in February 2006. As the clock ticks toward the end, a manic atmosphere of almost ecstatic creativity and partying engulfs Mathers' abode. Looking like a cross between a caveman and a dandy, Mathers has changed his name to "Toilet." His girlfriend is "Log," a tall punk/goth princess.
Before State Parks bought Lower Topanga in 2001, Toilet was a subtenant renting an airstream trailer on a three-acre property in the Rodeo Grounds that was already notorious for its art crowd, annual summer parities, and as a crashing spot for celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. and John Drew Barrymore.
But Toilet's fellow renters were relocated early on. Half of the property that Toilet once shared with them has been boarded up. Although Toilet still lives in his airstream trailer, he hasn't had to pay rent since 2003 (when his landlord was relocated).
The focal points of Toilet and Log's art scene are a large art studio and a campfire pit.
The art studio has high ceilings, a small alcove with a bed, a fireplace, and paints and canvases lying everywhere for anyone who might be inspired.
Toilet likes to collaborate on paintings with any painters who happen to show up. His newest series of paintings is distinguished by its excessive use of glitter. On one of them he has written, "Where we come from everything sparkles and everything is free. Come home."
Toilet's weathered paintings spill out of his art studio and are scattered all around the yard, alongside sculptures by Toilet's friend Jeanbatiste, who sculpts in a garage on the property. Toilet's yard also contains several painted wheelchairs (he prefers them to regular chairs) and rotting couches that are grouped around a fire pit.
"Idlers of the Bamboo Grove" is the title of the Lower Topanga poetry book published by Brass Tacks Press in 2002, which Toilet illustrated and contributed poems to. It is also a way of life that has become the basis for Toilet and Log's art scene.
"I value the social above the productive," says Toilet, who doesn't have a regular job. Log doesn't have one either.
Toilet and Log often invite friends (and friends of friends) to crash at their place for weeks, months, even years. When they're not throwing parties, they hold court by the campfire, hanging out with whoever drops by.
They preside over their scene in costume or in the nude. Toilet likes to get a quick laugh from newcomers with his lewd catchphrase, "I am Toilet and your ass is mine!"
Many come to Toilet and Log's simply to mix with the many different kinds of people who tend to show up. Around their campfire, you can meet the Hollywood elite and eccentric goths; millionaires and beach bums; locals and travelers; gurus and doctors; white-haired hippies and dramatic teenagers; rappers, Rastafarians, deejays, and punk rockers.
On any given day, a crowd may gather at Toilet and Log's for an impromptu drum circle, a movie shoot, or a barbecue. Log may be naked, chanting, and playing her harmonium. Toilet may be holding forth on how the roots of arundo (the bamboo that grows everywhere) is a source one of the most powerful psychedelic on the planet, DMT.
Toilet and Log also hold many sacred and magical rituals at their place. Their latest ritual was a symbolic wedding they performed with 15 others around the campfire.
"We decided to marry the Yang active principle of Voodoo to the Yin receptive function of Dada and gave birth to a new art form called Doodoo, also known as brown magic. Then we anointed everyone as low Doodoo gurus. Afterwards we all smoked pot," Toilet says.
Toilet and Log's anarchist lifestyle has been a constant source of conflict with State Parks, who is trying to depopulate the lower Canyon. But Toilet and Log say that they want to keep the artistic spirit of the Lower Topanga community alive until its last days.
"More than making art, this place has been strongest at making artists," Toilet says. "I wonder what Topanga will be like without us."