Randy Lawrence’s home immediately stands out as you drive up the windy, hilly roads of Echo Park’s residential community. Colored glass bottles, brightly painted handprints and depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe distinguish the home from rows of unassuming tan bungalows, set back from the road and obscured by foliage.
The home is easily recognizable, and so is the homeowner. After parking in front of the house, we hesitated for a moment, wondering if we should trapeze through the artwork to knock on the front door. We soon spotted Randy proudly standing on the curb, however, in an outfit that matched his art display. On his shirt, the Virgin of Guadalupe. On his pants, two large handprints.
“Welcome to Randyland! Welcome to Randyland!” he greeted each of us enthusiastically.
“Randyland” is another name for “Phantasma Gloria,” an adaptation of the ancient Greek word phantasmagoria, which means a series of dream-like images. The sculpture is a large tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, another title for the Virgin Mary.
Obviously, imagery of the Virgin of Guadalupe is found all over the globe. But according to Randy, his own front yard boasts the largest glass version of the figure. Though there are plenty of stone and tile versions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Randy’s use of glass bottles and colored water makes his unique.
The idea for Phantasma Gloria came to Randy well over a decade ago, when he was enthralled by the horizon reflected through a blue bottle full of water on his window sill.
“I realized I could make a mosaic image out of the living sky itself,” he said. “The basic element, instead of tile, is a lens that is projecting the sky with the sun in it. And since the sky is alive, the image is alive because its constantly changing as the sun moves.”
Instead of forming a mosaic out of tiles, Randy created a mosaic using sunlight. The sculpture is anything but uniform; it features glass bottles of different shapes and sizes, some filled by colored water.
In addition to the glass Virgin of Guadalupe mosaic, the figure is featured in large cutouts along the stairs. When the lighting is right, the sun shines directly through the cutout, creating a shadow on the stairs that matches the figure.
Randy studied economics at UC Santa Cruz, and now builds sets in Hollywood, relying on the same construction skills that built his flashy yard decoration. Though he readily admits that he doesn’t come from a scientific background, Randy prefers to describe his work in scientific terms.
For example, when the sun shines through convex bottles, it appears to be splitting in two — a phenomenon Randy dubs “sun mitosis.” Sun mitosis occurs in the large bottle positioned as the Virgin’s belly, which hosts both “the son, s-o-n, and the sun, s-u-n,” Randy said, chuckling.
After “Welcome to Randyland,” Randy’s second catchphrase is “refraction in action.” Refraction is the bending of light as it passes through various mediums. In terms of Phantasma Gloria, refraction happens as sunlight passes through glass bottles, and the colored water inside of them. If you’re wondering, the best time to catch refraction in action at Randyland is mid-morning or late afternoon.
“Any artist just wants to create something novel and beautiful, that evokes powerful feelings,” Randy said. When I realized I essentially had a new medium -— art made of the sky itself — I wanted to explore it as much as possible.”
The first thing that came to mind when I saw the 40-foot sculpture was, “What do the neighbors think?” Randy reassured us that his neighbors are very supportive, a sentiment that I didn’t fully believe until multiple residents walked by, cheerfully greeting Randy.
Randy’s neighborhood and home choice weren’t an accident; he specifically chose his home because it features an eye-level platform that lends itself to art displays. He began working on the sculpture in 2001, during what he jokingly called “a late mid-life crisis.” Though Randyland was featured in a Los Angeles Times article several years ago, his art still remains relatively unknown.
The sculpture is constantly changing; Randy has displayed four different glass bottle configurations since first starting the project. We wanted to enter the yard itself, for a behind-the-scenes view of the sculpture, but unfortunately, the area was off-limits. Randy is transforming the space into a seating area where visitors can admire Phantasma Gloria while socializing.
Enthusiastic and talkative, Randy easily filled an hour explaining his project to us. And by the time we walked to the car, Randy had already moved on to his next set of visitors, receiving them with the ever cheerful “Welcome to Randyland!”
Erin Rode is a freshman majoring in environmental engineering and print and digital journalism. Her column, “The Rode Less Traveled,” runs Thursdays.