Example of Stained Glass Window made with Butterfly wings.
Perhaps no one knows better that endings are also beginnings than Lori Precious.
Before she was the Lori Precious weâve come to knowâthe Topanga artist who draws whimsical illustrations for comfy sweatshirts, blankets, and mugs for her brand, Topanga Bohemian, that are for sale at her Etsy store and at Cafe Mimosaâthere is a depth, an authenticity to her life experience before Topanga that we can only hint at here.
As a child, she traveled the world with her parents âwho moved around a lot. Mogadishu was transformative,â she says. âThe genesis of my art was being born; I was drawing from the very beginning. There was no question that I would ever be a mathematician or a doctor; my career would be visual.â It was, but not quite what she expected.
âIn 1981, after graduating from Western Michigan University in art and design, I moved from Michigan to LA, and kind of âtrippedâ into entertainment advertising. By age 25, I was VP at NBCâs ad agency for print advertising, making $100,000 a year and traveling all over the world to art direct photo shoots in the golden age of TV movies. Here I was, just a bumpkin from Michigan and scared out of my mind so I just worked extra hard and did the job. Iâm proud that I worked on the advertising for the first movie about AIDS, An Early Frost.â
But the farther she got into the world of entertainment advertising, âI was getting farther away from creating art. So I quit my job and enrolled in Art Center in Pasadena for illustration. In my very first semester I took a fine arts class, fell in love with that world and switched my major. The first fine art piece I did was put in the student gallery, then picked up by a major LA gallery to exhibit. It got an amazing review in the LA Times. When you are young, it seems success can happen kind of magically.â
âConcurrent with that new life as a fine artist, I went back to working at an ad agency to support myself and kind of fell into directing promos, music videos and commercials. Previously, I had only art directed print shoots and I didnât know shit about live-action directing but I had an artistâs eye, a distinct visual style that got me hired. I was always reliable and a hard worker and went on to become one of the most successful female commercial directors in history. At the time, becoming a live-action director happened so organically that I didnât realize how freakishly fortunate I was to be a successful working female director.
âAs I got older, my career as a director waned and I started to become more aware of the discrimination against female directors. A small group of female directors at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) started to take action against long-standing discriminatory hiring practices by studios and networks but we faced a lot of resistance from the DGA, the studios and networks, who flat-out denied there was a problem at all. Our group of women started to grow and gain traction and I became the spokesperson on CBS National News for the issue. Eventually, we took our case to the ACLU and the EEOC where they both found compelling evidence of a pattern of discrimination against women directors. It really wasnât until the Me Too movement that people finally began to see what was under their noses the whole time.â
During that time, Precious had a son, Miles, then adopted a daughter, Silanchi, from Ethiopia. Both kids, she says. âare true Topanga kids who went to Childrenâs Corner and Topanga Elementary. Miles just graduated from Cal Arts this year and Silanchi is a junior at Palisades High.â
Life for Precious as a fine artist took a nasty turn when the worldâs wealthiest contemporary artist, Damian Hirst, well known for his theft of other artistsâ ideas, plagiarized her series of butterfly wings arranged to look like stained glass windows. His version of her work became his highest selling art at auctions like Sothebyâs where pieces sell for tens of millions of dollars. This theft of her work has been well documented in The Guardian, the BBC, in a book, âThe Dangerous World of Butterflies,â and she is cited on Hirstâs Wikipedia page. The experience of her art being copied, she said, â...gutted me and I didnât show at all for a long timeâ
In 2016, she started another creative project, a self-funded business, Ethio Sky, based in Ethiopia where she worked with talented female tribeswomen artists in the most remote part of Africa, Omo Valley, Ethiopia. âWe created an arrangement where I would pay them up front to create patterns for me, then I would go back to LA where I learned how to transfer their art onto textiles. I would then sell that work, go back and pay the women for more patterns. I was just the bridge, but one woman was able to buy a treasured cow with her earnings. She named it Lori.
âBefore Ethio Sky, I didnât know how to make products or work on PhotoShop, or sell online or in person. Now I know how to do all those things and have the confidence to put out a quality product. Sadly, I had to discontinue Ethio Sky when the pandemic and the civil war in Ethiopia hit and made it unsafe to travel there.â
âI love LA; itâs been good to me. Especially Topanga, which fits me like a comfortable old hippie shoe. I have flourished here in my many artistic pursuits but what I want out of my life right now is authenticity. That means getting back to my original identity as an illustrator and during the pandemic, after many years, I started drawing again.â
âAs you can see, the end is also the beginning.â