You probably had passed by it hundreds of times: The Hustler globe above the entrance of Larry Flynt’s store on the west end of Sunset Strip. Reminiscent of the globe above Hollywood’s Crossroads of the World, Hustler’s is spired by neon red, orange, and lavender, rotates and reads, “For the Rest of the World” (an allusion, perhaps, to how X-rated retail is not for mainstream America but for everyone else). Since the sex-positive lifestyle boutique has relocated a block away from its original location, the iconic globe may be moving, too, which perked up the ears of Katie Bright, one’s of West Hollywood’s most popular artists.
“I think monuments like that shouldn’t just vanish,” Katie Bright tells me via a Zoom call. Her jet-black hair, arranged in a spiraling bun at the top, creates a strong contrast with her ivory skin; the cable cord that hangs from her desk amplifies the idea that she’s plugged in, electric and alive. The charming, transplanted Britisher hasn’t lost much of her accent since relocating to the City of Angels in 2015, but has gained a lot more sunshine, as her sun-kissed shoulders and chest can attest. “The [Hustler globe] is so iconic around the world and of course, I’m British so we know of the Sunset Strip.”
Bright was working on a West Hollywood project when she happened upon the Hustler building, which had recently closed its original location. She noticed the globe was still there. “I was looking at the Hustler building, and I was going, ‘that globe is phenomenal, why has it not been removed?’” she tells me, gesturing with long, strong fingers. Bright decided to speak to couple of people — one of whom was WEHOville’s Henry Scott — and they immediately aligned with her idea to save the globe. “I decided that I would start this concept of ‘Save the World’ — ‘Save the Globe, Save the World’ in irony.”
She spoke to a few representatives of Larry Flynt, builder of the Hustler empire, and they too were on board with saving the globe; they believed Flynt would really love that idea as well. Ideally, they’d repurpose the globe back on the Strip, have it alit, and be part of a walkable arts exhibit of objects that had once been on Sunset, as to preserve the heritage of West Hollywood. Bright spoke to Rebecca Ehemann, the public art coordinator for the City of West Hollywood, who quelled her fears that the globe would vanish: “She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got it on my list, I’m going to save it!’ so Rebecca Ehemann is going to save it,” Bright says with scintillating, gunmetal blue eyes.
Though she’d love the globe to be part of a walkable tour of the Sunset Strip, she isn’t hopeful that it will remain on Sunset. “I don’t think there’s much room up there,” she tells me, since there are a lot of proposals for new buildings. “Which is a total shame that someone can’t make room.”
When speaking about the importance of the Hustler globe, Bright speaks of its significance for the world in light of sexual liberation. “I just think what Larry Flynt has done for — I don’t know, I think for all of us — you know, sex being out on the open,” she says. Bright believes that Flynt alongside sex-positive trailblazers like Paul Raymond in the U.K. have done much for sexual freedom and should be celebrated. Likewise, with Sunset Strip being historically an intrinsic part of sexual liberation, particularly for women, she believes that structures like the Hustler globe should be preserved.
It makes sense why the Hustler globe on Sunset — a bright, decadent ode to liberation and sexual freedom — is important to Bright. Hailing from England, she spent time all around the world. For her Master’s of Fine Arts degree, she studied women in Hollywood. For one of her inspired projects, she started making wolf masks of her ex-lovers. But then the concept of wearing masks started resonating even deeper for Bright.
“I started to look at how as women — because I can only speak from being a woman — we all wear masks or have worn masks […] I wear masks in business, and personally I’ve been trying to dishevel all the masks. So I try to be my most authentic self at all times.”
Hollywood became part of the conversation when she considered how the glamorous starlets of Tinseltown influenced women all around the world. “So like Marilyn Monroe with the blonde hair and the makeup and the eyebrows. You know, women…we copied that so then we started to wear someone else’s mask.”
Whilst in England in 2015, chapters began closing for Bright. She lost her father, lived in other countries, and had finished up her Master’s degree. She had run her course in England. “I was just like, I want to move. Where shall I move?” After consulting with a “white witch” who did her astrological natal chart reading, Bright learned she would be best suited geographically in Ethiopia, Canada or the West Coast. The decision wasn’t difficult: “I’d been doing all this stuff with Marilyn Monroe — I was like, ‘I’m going to move to Hollywood.’” A week later, she booked her flight, and everything fell into place.
Even with little consumer credit, Bright was able to snag her first L.A. apartment quite easily. Life continues to work out quite nicely for her as a local celebrity artist; she attributes her success to how she feels: “If I stay on a good vibration, I get pretty much everything that I ask for,” she says. Her good, good vibrations have attracted into her sphere clients such as the City of West Hollywood and The Travel + Tourism Board (Visit WeHo), for whom she has recently designed masks, and others.
Considering herself a “West Hollywood fanatic,” Bright is not just an “ideas person” but an execution person as well; she lays the groundwork for ideas and makes them happen. When asked what her vision for West Hollywood is, she speaks of launching off what’s already been started to further evolve the community.
“So I think, moving forward, it’s more of the same, but it’s initiating the newbies in and asking them to participate, because otherwise if they’re moving in and staying for 30 years and never really participating, the community will die off eventually.”
She would like to see more walkable tours, more beer tours, more use of the free buses that run through the community. In implementing such experiences, the newcomers of West Hollywood would be more aware of the area’s rich history and opportunities. With newcomers involved, West Hollywood, according to Bright, would flourish even more.
“I think the foundation of West Hollywood was built on immigrants and different identities coming together to build something. So, it’s like let’s find a commonality here. And it’s the 1.9 square miles that exist as the commonality and let’s try and bring equal rights to everybody, every gender, every sexuality, whatever it may be.”
Bright being an idea-powerhouse is a godsend for West Hollywood. She’s helped campaign for the Arts Club, and is often pitching innovative concepts for retail stores, bars and restaurants to support WeHo’s local businesses. Even when she’s just out and about, Bright makes it a point to generate interest about the special things that exist in her neighborhood. Talking to strangers on the street to recommend the brioche somewhere, for instance, is another way she enriches the experiences tourists and locals alike. West Hollywood is her playground — her home — and she is a friend to many who work in the area.
“The community is tight and it’s about that human connection,” she says.
She’s currently dreaming up possibilities for bartenders who’ve been out of work for months due to COVID. “And [the barman] is just as integral as the bar. So like I’m then going to support that barman because he’s become a friend,” she says, motioning her hand from her heart.
It would seem that Bright’s passion for community was actually catalyzed in West Hollywood. Hailing from Swindon, a town in southwest England, popularized by the U.K. version of The Office (“Swindon is the Scranton of America,” she tells me), she loves its lush countryside, though it’s become the national joke of England. Further, the concept of community was not very palpable in the Victorian town.
In Swindon,” she tells me, “people don’t rally. People don’t get behind things early enough. Somebody comes up with a really great idea, and it takes like two years for it to become something.”
For instance, before she had left Swindon, there was talk about patronizing the local artisan coffee shops instead of the national corporate chains, yet it took too long for people to catch on. “And of course, now, two, three years down the line, people are supporting [the artisan shops] but why does it take so long? Why do not people get behind that?” In West Hollywood, and L.A. as a whole, the pacing for things to catch on is much faster she thinks, which is more aligned with her ideals.
Perhaps it’s her “get-on-with-it pacing,” kismet, or high vibration that has led Bright to her latest endeavor: homewares. Called The Digs Collection, her aspirational murals and wallpapers are apropos at present time during the COVID pandemic, when we are spending more time at home and inclined to renovate (“digs “is slang for home). Her understanding of the current zeitgeist and its psychological impact is enlightening in itself: “Spending an awful lot of time at home like we have done, we’re looking at our space. We’re also thinking we’ve gone inside, we’ve gone introverted, we’re understanding ourselves. I think our homes need to become more of an extension of who we are.”
The wallpapers she’s created — five will be on the launch — are huge. Among them are three original murals about 150 feet by 100 feet that are original from left to right. Some, Bright tells me, are “so naughty, and it’s so West Hollywood.” For instance, like the emojis on our phones that can double as body parts for risque texting, she’s done beautiful illustrations of something akin to aubergines — a banana lying through the rashers of bacon and a sausage coming in from the other sides.
“But it’s fun,” she says, enunciating in her English accent. “I want to create spaces in people’s homes that are fun.”
Bright endeavors to elevate others’ lives with the original work she does: “So for me as a person, and my footprint that I want to establish with the world, is to create work that people can become reflective with. So, I’m a vehicle, a spiritual vehicle of artwork that people can get for a fairly affordable price.”
Bright has created a range of work that people can buy for different areas of their homes. She has some for restrooms, kitchens, bedrooms. And it can be bought in sections, too, if you have a feature wall for instance and don’t need the whole mural. What’s more, unlike a hand-painted mural, the printable artwork can be reprinted in a new home, should you decide to relocate.
In addition to her original murals and wallpapers, Bright has also designed limited-edition kimonos — the one she models for me has bullet studs on the shoulders that contrast with its luxuriously silky fuchsia body, daintied up with subtle black and pink florals, symbolizing perhaps luxurious comfort with an edge. These kimonos, too, are very much aligned with the needs of the times.
“If you think about the nature of what we’ve done especially in COVID, everybody is wearing leisure clothes,” Bright said.
She will only make around 1,000 of these kimonos; they will be numbered and the sewer of the garment would also be on the label, as a way of supporting the everyday people in her community. “But it becomes important — who’s made it, where it’s been made. It’s made with love,” she says relaxing back, the pink of her garment picking up the pigment of her lipstick. Works from The Digs Collection are featured on her website www.welcometothebrightside.com and will be available for purchase. Along with her other projects, this one is surely inspired: “So it’s like whatever I guess my higher being tells me to do, it happens.”
It would seem that Bright’s “higher being” has in mind for her a higher purpose. While her work is highly original, even “bonkers” as she may call it, it serves a purpose beyond just having something cool in your home. One’s “digs” is not just where one hangs their hat, but where inner peace can be sought — before, during, and after COVID. In this light, Bright’s work takes on another complexion. The Digs Collection, as a love-infused addition to the home, may help people find resolve and inner peace. In empowering the inner world for individuals by helping them feel good at home, the world at large can experience greater gains: “How we resolve the world and its problems,” Bright explains, looking up to the side, “is by working on yourself first.” Self-care, which predominantly takes place in the home and is instrumental to inner peace, can help one build resilience and strength according to Bright. “And as a community we’ll be much stronger and our foundation will be able to combat the world’s issues.”