Gallery 478: Unifying Art and Living

If you are attuned to the San Pedro art scene, photography in particular, then you’ve heard of Ray and Arnée Carofano, a husband and wife duo who strike a wondrous chord in the local artistic community. Or, if you have visited First Thursday downtown, you may have danced to a band or viewed some art on display whilst enjoying a glass (or two) of vino at their ultra cool art studio/loft, Gallery 478. No? Then here is your opportunity to observe “through the looking glass” the culmination of their labor and vision: the unity of art and living.

But first, a little history. The couple met in ’91, were married in ’94, and were  living on the strand in Redondo Beach. Ray had a studio in Gardena where he did comercial photography. Desiring to be a part of San Pedro’s budding and evolving art scene, they searched to find a place where they could synthesize Ray’s work with their living space: the seed of their vision was thus planted. In 1997 they purchased the former location of Crocker Bank on 7th street. The numerical address? You guessed it—478. After securing a great deal on the property, the Carafano’s began six months of extensive renovation, with hired help. But Ray and Arnée were the conductors of their dream, orchestrating the workers daily to mould the vision into reality. This included a custom floor plan designed by themselves. As the building was stripped down to bare bones, a bounty of architectural details were uncovered- brick walls throughout, decorative metal, and once the asbestos floors were removed, a captivating concrete floor. Low 8ft. ceilings were expunged to expose two large and very illuminating skylights, as well as the crown jewel of the property, gorgeous wooden rafters just oozing with geometric beauty, an artistic work unto itself! Unique architecture in the foyer was also unveiled, where a duo of Arnée’s beautiful “Sea Scape” photos now grace its walls.                                                                        (See slideshow.)

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Fast forward eighteen years, and the established couple have seen a crescendo of progression in Gallery 478. “It wasn’t as minimal and clean in the beginning,” says Arnée, “we were originally set up strictly for Ray’s commercial photos.” The gallery has been amplified thanks to grants from the city to expand and create more space for artwork from other artists. A couple artists previously exhibited in the gallery are Emelio Mercado in 2011 and Ric Rowland in 2009.  For the past year though, they have been working on their own stuff. In an article from Photographer’s Forum Fall issue 2004, Ray stated, “There was a period of time in the eighties when I did very little personal work. I was shooting commercially everyday and there wasn’t much time for personal projects. When I met Arnée, she was looking at my personal work and said what is this about? How come you are not doing this anymore? At that point, I asked myself that question and started to get back into shooting for myself.”1  Currently, the expansive white walls display Ray’s sultry “L.A. River” series. Back in 2002, B&W Magazine’s Richard Pitnick had this to say about Ray’s work: “It’s the deeply felt experiences he had as a child roaming the woods near his home in rural Connecticut that still inspire him to capture the “strange and mysterious” he sees in the landscape.” Eventually, they will get back to showing other peoples work.

In the initial section of the gallery is a single wooden bench, made by friend of a friend Gregg Shirk, offering a place to sit and contemplate the art, which is highlighted by professional track lighting hung from the rafters. The brick globe on the floor in the corner was created by artist Ali Acerol. There are three other double sided portable walls of art plus two very tidy work stations that complete the gallery. (Click on any photo to see an enlarged version.)

The melodic kitchen and lounge area was formerly the ladies room/powder room. The concrete floor, Ray shares, “Is like a maze. You can see the traces of where the partitions were.” The men’s room now serves as a coffee nook. One clever idea is a corrugated metal wall covering. “It’s an inexpensive way of creating something architechural in here,” says Arnée.

The primitive features in the scullery consist of a brick wall backdrop,  chicken wire hammered glass windows and the original steel backdoor from 1941, painstakingly renovated by Arnée. The classic sink, complete with a drain board, was discovered in a tipped over metal table upstairs during renovation. The couple happily renovated the hidden treasure, which is perfect for the space. The smooth cement counter top is an idea they brought back from a trip to Mexico. The petite 30″ vintage stove from Antique Stove Heaven has found a forever home. Keeping them company in the kitchen is “Bentley” their butler statue, whom Arnée coveted for a year before finally picking him up from the now defunct nursery, Begonia Farms. She had to promise to give him a good home!

Exiting the kitchen, if you go to the left and follow the curve you will come across photos from Ray’s “Faces of San Pedro” collection, a series of captivating photos  of individual homeless people and other eclectic personalities, recruited from The Alhambra, Hotel Royale, and various old San Pedro watering holes. The glamorous green linoleum staircase is straight out of the 1940’s, and is one of the few things they didn’t have to change. The staircase wall was recently updated to showcase artwork from local San Pedro artists. Included are works from Ron Linden, Liz Medina, Ted Twine and Craig Antrim to name a few, all friends of the Carofanos.  The custom made “wavy” handrail, created by architect Jeff Shelton, guides you up the stairs. (See slideshow.)

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Once there, you are welcomed by a prominent custom bookshelf, brilliantly built around the windows to allow in the light, organized with assorted literature and a flat screen TV. A casual yet sophisticated living room concords with a computer area. A wall nook painted a vibrant orange (the vivid color repeats itself throughout the space) houses a grand Epsom printer. Considered the “new darkroom”, the large format printer prints 40″ wide photos. It was used to print Ray’s current “L.A. River” series as well as Arnée’s “Sea Scape” series. Sadly, the dark room downstairs collects dust due to the evolution of digital photography. On the wall behind the printer is a trio of 3″x 3″photos from a series of abstracts Arnée did using a Polaroid SX-70 camera, all original and one of a kind!           (Click on any photo to see an enlarged version.)

The minute upstairs bathroom has been “up-dated” with a claw foot tub (Arnée loves bubble baths- who doesn’t, right?) and an art deco light above the white tiled sink. A curved wall, mimicking the wall downstairs, was cut in half to create openness. The bedroom loft jets out over the gallery downstairs offering an orchestral view. According to Arnée, “During the evening it’s warm and inviting. “The Navigator” (a metal sculpture of a little man with wings who keeps watch from across the gallery) casts a huge shadow on the wall,” and the “meditation area gets a serene glow.” Above the simple white bed hangs one of Ray’s works called “Jupiter Island”, a place near Hobe Sound, FL, boasting a floral motif. It is the perfect accent to the vine covered window next to the bed!

The Carafano home is a veritable symphony of art: displayed upon the walls, gracing the floors, and expressed in their lives.  Creating a unifying environment of an art gallery with a living loft space seems effortless and natural for them, and a testament to Gallery 478’s success. If you’re downtown for First Thursday, stop by and say hello, view Ray’s “L.A. River” exhibit , and tell them San Pedro Abodes sent you! To see Ray’s body of work, see his website at: