Colleena Hake's mission statement: “Taking a stab at showing post-mod art, and cutting through some bullshit.” Credit: Penelope Valentine

La Matadora Gallery “is only 333.33 square feet,” says owner and mosaic artist Colleena Hake, “but it packs a punch.”

Artist Carmen Tostado, whose art on the subject of child abuse was featured at La Matadora, says the Joshua Tree gallery provides a service for artists and the community. It also provides a whole lot of fun.

“The inside is intimate, but there is also a large space out front for art parties, which happen every second Saturday and feature two or more artists with live sound art, performances and/or a DJ,” Hake says. These parties can attract up to 200 people, drawn from throughout Southern California.

Hake says she came to Joshua Tree on a road trip of discovery, and moved there after falling in love with the place.

“Joshua Tree was the most beautiful place on Earth—boulders, Joshua trees, the extreme desert,” she says. “There were also a lot of artists living there.” She has formed personal connections with many of these artists, and her gallery features their work.

After closing her Candelabra Gallery in Tucson, she started La Matadora. Why La Matadora? Hake explains that she had been collecting black-velvet paintings for some time, but “then my friend Lisa Kanouse painted me a red-velvet matador painting. I decided La Matadora would be the name of my next gallery.”

Hake’s mission statement: “Taking a stab at showing post-mod art, and cutting through some bullshit.”

After Hake studied art history in London, she earned a master’s degree in humanities, with an emphasis on performance art. Performance art is important to Hake, as she sees it as a way of creating moods. Her mosaic work is inspired by artists including Isaiah Zagar, of Philadelphia; Antoni Gaudi, of Barcelona; and Hildreth Meiere, of Nebraska.

Like virtually every other business, La Matadora had to make changes during the pandemic. For Hake, who has been deaf since the age of 2, the arrival of COVID-19 posed a particular challenge: Used to reading lips, she found it impossible to do so while people were wearing masks.

“I became psychic,” she says with a laugh. “After having been focused on lips, I had to look at their eyes. Soon I had customers write down their questions. It became like an art project.”

Al Marcano with his Death Dance exhibit.

La Matadora stayed open in a rather unique way: Attendees could view art via a walk-up window. The gallery featured a show in January by Al Marcano, whose art focused on COVID. He called the exhibition Death Dance, and he sold 40 of his 50 pieces.

“So many (people) came during COVID.” Marcano says. “I stayed behind a plastic curtain, and everyone wore masks.”

The gallery will commemorate its fourth anniversary on Saturday, July 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. Featured artists include Kim Green, Tracy Brown and Hector Santos, with DJ AlKimmy (aka Kim Green) and Third Circle Visuals.

Marcano will be curating an exhibition at La Matadora between July 22 and 26, called Fruit of the Vine, featuring John Rogers, Antonio J. Ainscough, tattoo artist Gavin Daily and others, including Eric Sena, 18, whose work will be shown for the first time.

“My goal is to inspire young future artists,” Marcano said. “The Matadora is cool. … It has a lot of heart and soul.”

Wendy Lee Gadzuk, a La Matadora curator, says the gallery is a welcome contrast to galleries in Los Angeles, where high overhead costs force a business-oriented outlook. Owner Colleena Hake, instead, chooses artists about whom she is passionate.

Marcano says that the exhibition at La Matadora will bring something new to the high desert. “It will be insanely different, and something Joshua Tree has never seen before,” he says. “It’s contemporary street art.”

In August, artists Daniel Martin Diaz and Alexandra Bowers will be coming to La Matadora, and September will feature Wendy Lee Gadzuk, an artist and musician, as curator for the whole month. She curates every third month at the gallery, so Hake can catch her breath. She also curated the show that will be on display from June 12 through July 4, called Six Fingered Beast, featuring the work of “six OG Los Angeles punk/art rockers.” It will be celebrated at June’s monthly art party, from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, June 12.

“I love her aesthetic and eye for detail,” Hake says about Gadzuk. “We balance each other out in many ways.”

In return, Gadzuk says that La Matadora is a welcome contrast to galleries in Los Angeles, where high overhead costs force a business-oriented outlook. Hake, instead, chooses artists about whom she is passionate.

The September show will have a taxidermy/roadkill theme and feature artists Paul Koudounaris, Brooke Weston, Lauren Kane/Precious Creature and Beth Allen (who is an Independent contributor). The theme of the show: honoring death.

“Each artist has their own unique take on the subject,” Gadzuk says. “Brooke Weston is a Los Angeles artist who builds colorful and whimsical worlds inside the hollowed-out bodies of animals who have passed, tenderly giving them a new life.”

Lauren Kane is the owner of Precious Creature and works in the Victorian tradition of memorial taxidermy—preserving animal companions that have passed. Beth Allen is also a taxidermist, inspired by a punk-rock aesthetic.

Paul Koudounaris, an author and photographer with a doctorate in art history, will be showing collections of tales and images from his macabre and educational excursions. “Paul Koudounaris’ photographs document roadkill in the desert,” Gadzuk says. “He honors the creature who has passed by covering its body in a collection of colorful silk flowers, creating impromptu roadkill memorial shrines.

“The goal is to take away some of the stigma around discussing the topic of death, which is a perfectly natural part of the process of life, and to honor our non-human friends who have passed,” Gadzuk says.

La Matadora Gallery is located at 61857 Twentynine Palms Highway, in Joshua Tree. For more information, call 520-370-1465, or visit lamatadoragallery.org.

Cat Makino

Catherine Makino is a multimedia journalist who was based in Tokyo for 22 years. She wrote for media sources including Thomson Reuters, the San Francisco Chronicle, Inter Press Service, the Los Angeles...