An alleyway lies tucked away between 7th and 8th Streets in the midst of the cramped shops, outdoor mannequins and eateries crowding Los Angeles Street. Down a narrow path, an arrow points pedestrians to shocking yellow walls. In the heart of the Santee Court Apartments is a place where art, inspiration, current events and the city of Los Angeles meet organically and mix beautifully – the Ren Gallery.
The front of the gallery is made up of five floor-to-ceiling windows, exposing the works within. The high ceilings give the studio an airy feel and the windows let the sunshine creep in, illuminating the art and highlighting the concrete floors. The contemporary pop pieces span across the otherwise bare, white walls like colorful sprinkles on vanilla ice cream.
"Confucius used the term 'ren' to explain a concept of just doing something good for humanity for humanity's sake," Renee Warren, the gallery's owner, said. "Basically, we just ought to do this just to make ourselves a better people and that's what ren is to me, that really rang true to what art is in a sense – it's really offering something to humanity."
Abandoning the comfort of the corporate world to explore the intricacies of yoga in India for a year, Warren now discovers inspiration in her everyday life by offering something to humanity through her gallery in the humble Santee Courts. Warren and the downtown Los Angeles hub have formed a relationship that withstands the changing demographics of the city and upholds the values of art and culture. Her space's energy has become contagious in the area, sparking the imaginations of those around her and evoking a passion and engagement that was not present prior to her gallery's arrival.
At age 21, Warren left her small hometown of Bremerton, Washington to see if she could make it in the big city. After a decade in Los Angeles, she has found success with Ren Gallery's three locations.
"She is really on the cutting edge of what I would consider contemporary modernism that reflects the artists and the environment that she curates with it," said Robin Nixon, a gallery visitor. "Her curation reflects what's going on right now in downtown … she is the spokesperson of the cultural identity of the people downtown."
Warren moved into her current space in November 2016. She takes pride in what her art events have brought to the community and done for the residence over the past year.
"It's so inspiring when you find a piece of art and then you find the right home for it and putting those two people together," Warren said. "Seeing, especially when you're working with local artists like I do and they get to meet their clients and see that excitement and that relationship build."
Warren's most successful artist is Louis Cannizzaro, whose work has appeared everywhere from T-shirts at Anthropologie to in Madonna's home. Cannizzaro has plenty of gallery experience but said he likes Ren Gallery because Warren is constantly working and always puts the artists first. Warren's genuine faith and devotion to the artist's work is apparent to the artists she works with.
"I always say there's two ways to spell art in the art business, A-R-T and R-A-T," Cannizzaro said. "She's definitely an A-R-T person."
Art is more than an acrylic painting or neon lights to Warren. She believes art is a representation of the world around us, a factor she gives considerable weight when she is bringing together different artists for exhibits.
"Art really expresses a moment in time in our culture, culturally speaking, when you're working with contemporary arts, it's like you're seeing somebody's interpretation of social events that are going on," Warren said. "That's one of the reasons why I work with contemporary artists in Los Angeles."
Ren Gallery's current exhibition is an installation inspired by the three million people that came together in a peaceful demonstration for the women's marches. The exhibition "Take to the Streets" features 12 artists from museum sculptors to street muralists. The art exhibit opened March 9th.