James Herman: Yardwork

“I worked on the hill – or property, compound, whatever you want to call it – for 5 years building a home and systems for off-grid living while still being only 10 minutes from beautiful downtown LA. The best way to fix up a place is to live in it. By occupying areas of the property, I breathed life into them, fixing them, noticing that paths should go here or certain plants did better over there – by being on the land you become part of it, and there’s no architect or planner that could do better than someone just putting their own two feet on the ground…”


James Herman was recently forced to relocate from his verdant hilltop compound in Montecito Heights, Los Angeles, where he had been living and working for the past five years. Herman had established an off-grid home and studio complete with composting sanitation, greywater irrigation, and sustainable farming. Hosting collaborative monthly dinners around his earthen clay oven, Earth Pizza became a community meeting ground for other artists, writers and creatives that would come together to share their own makings, fermentations, and foraged ingredients like peppery yucca flowers and stinging nettles.


For Yardwork, Various Small Fires is pleased to house Herman’s studio ecology and back-to-the-land concepts which critically engage systems aesthetics, permaculture and renewable energy amidst an otherwise dense city infrastructure. Sculptures from the hill have been relocated to VSF’s outdoor courtyard including a solar-powered pond for edible lotuses and fish, wooden stumps upcycled as seats for communal dinners, and scintillating concrete lamps and benches cast with glass bottles, styrofoam trash, and broken ceramics tossed by Herman’s friends.


On August 17th, VSF welcomes the public to an iteration of Earth Pizza, where Herman will distribute bubbling thin-crust pies from a mobile version of his wood-fired clay oven, after a panel discussion with Ecological Art pioneer, Newton Harrison, Rafa Esparza, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Ursula K Heise, and Arohi Sharma, with moderator Matthew Schum.