Crime Stoppers: Art Theft at LA’s La Luz de Jesus Gallery

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At 3:16 p.m., Thursday, May 7, La Luz de Jesus Gallery issued an alert for LA residents and lovers of the arcane to be on the lookout for two acrylic paintings on wood that had reportedly gone missing from the gallery that day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Lauren Gardiner’s Madame Margaritte and Fifi Pomme Fritte and The Duchess Tabitha. Gardiner, an employee of Soap Plant and a Rhode Island School of Design grad in Illustration, originally had four images on display in her “Royalty Before Surgery” series, which was part of a four-person group show at La Luz that opened May 1. Now, there are only two paintings left.

There were very few people in the store at the time the paintings were stolen, and no one knows exactly when the works disappeared. Gallery owner Billy Shire, who also owns Billy Shire Fine Arts, noticed the paintings missing at about 12:45 p.m.

The theft stunned Gardiner, who was one of three people working in the store at the time. She acknowledges that the paintings could have been stolen earlier in the day, although she says gallery staff is 99 percent certain the paintings were there the night before. As far as whether her paintings were stolen for a reason, Gardiner says, “I like to think they liked them. But then I also wonder if people took them just ’cause they could?” (The paintings were each 7×7 inches.) But bigger paintings than Gardiner’s had been stolen from the gallery, as well as items that are regularly shoplifted from the adjoining retail space, Soap Plant/Wacko.

Until now, Billy Shire has not had a video surveillance system in his space, simply relying on patrons to check oversized bags at the counter. The theft has left him discouraged and puzzled: “The art world is so small. Who would put these [paintings] on their wall without someone noticing them?”

Gardiner recalls seeing a “suspicious” man, who had reportedly been next door with a friend at the costume shop, Ozzie Dots, around the same time. But she doesn’t know if she and her colleagues are just looking for people to blame: “There were a few moms with strollers,” she laughs, “and we’re like, ‘Was it them?'”

The paintings had already been bought by clients of the gallery. Dismissing any rumors that the works could have been stolen from someone he knows (or someone who felt “entitled” to them), Gallery owner Billy Shire says he has the reputation “as the most honest dealer in town.”

When asked how she feels to be the artist of stolen paintings, Gardiner tells Flavorpill, “If someone had taken put a hammer to them, I’d have been crushed. But this way, at least someone’s enjoying them. I feel bad for the people who bought them, though it is weirdly flattering, I guess. What bothers me is, why do you just get take $1700 worth of art?”

As for the video monitoring system, Billy Shire says it’s being installed now.

If anyone has any information about these two paintings, they are asked to contact La Luz de Jesus Gallery at 323-663-0122, or send an email to sales@laluzdejesus, info@laluzdejesus, and leemail@gmail.com. A reward will be given for the return of the paintings, no questions asked.