This month’s XPAT Spotlight Interview features multitalented artist Maria Loewenstein, who was born into the household of two music and art lovers in Vienna, Austria. After her parents built a house on a property they had bought in Klosterneuburg, the family of six exchanged busy city life for a quieter one in the outskirts of Vienna. Appreciation for art in all its forms and variations established then has remained an integral part of her life since childhood. Little did she know then, that she would become a multimedia artist in a city that’s full of inspiration: Los Angeles.
Maria, how has your childhood in Austria impacted your life, now far away from your original home?
Being raised in a suburb always left me wanting more, even though there was no lack of culture and diversity in our lives. Every weekend our parents bribed us with a promised McDonalds happy meal, which included a toy, to join them for Sunday mass followed by an art exhibit in Vienna and the occasional classical concert or play for children. It goes without saying that this might have been the main reason that turned the four of us into artists/musicians and awakened our adventurous side.
Why did you move to California?
My desire to move out of the country grew with the increasing exposure to American television I received over the years. I remember the days I spent looking out the window of my high school, daydreaming of a different reality overseas, that I imagined being much better than life in Austria.
I started working in film in Vienna right after graduating high school, after my best friend’s brother, a director, introduced me to this line of work. One year later I was asked to shoot a making-of for a cigarette commercial in the desert just outside of Los Angeles for a Viennese production company. This was my first time in the United States, and living in Santa Monica for a week fueled my dreams of moving, in particular to the City of Angels.
Needless to say, my expectations weren’t quite met when I finally packed my bags in my early twenties and moved abroad. Living in Venice Beach during the first year of my moving, showed me a very different reality than the one I have seen on TV shows like Baywatch, just to mention one of them. I have never experienced the wealthy and the poor living in such close proximity.
How did your family and friends react to your choice of living far away from Austria?
From the beginning on, my family and my friends have always been very supportive of the life I chose abroad, even though there was some worry since starting over in a new country comes with its challenges. They very much enjoy their visits to California now, especially the friendliness of the people they have met and the rich variety of museums and music venues Los Angeles has to offer. We jokingly call our apartment the Austrian hostel that is booked numerous times a year by old friends and family.
How does your life here in California look like?
I have lived in many different cities around Los Angeles until finally settling in Koreatown with my long-term girlfriend, painter Sara Levinskas and our three cats Sven, Milos and Boris.The apartment we found resembles the perfect blend of Europe meets New York and we instantly fell in love with the spacious flat.
When I first moved over here I worked in catering and painted houses. I slowly started working in the film industry on numerous commercials, tv-shows and the occasional movie in the art department.
How has living in Los Angeles changed or inspired you?
Los Angeles is a city where people seem to come to find themselves. Life as an artist never crossed my mind, even though the need to create was always there. After moving here I realized that my urge to express myself through different materials made me an artist at heart and I rented my first art studio in Culver City.
I started to experiment with mixed media collages and always expressed an interest in wanting to capture the moment with stills, as well as moving images. Having witnessed a lot of human tragedies happening right outside our apartment in Koreatown and other parts of the city, I started to feel the need on one hand to create art that educates people on humanitarian crises, historic events that seem to repeat themselves, but also art that lightens up our heart and makes us laugh.
I formed an artist duo named KingVictoria with American choreographer Arthur Davis III, which paved the way for future collaborations with several more artists around the world. It also underlined the importance for me of having creative minds come together to create something unique. I am also very passionate about designing furniture after having worked in the film industry for so many years and witnessing the disposal of materials that could be repurposed and given life to.
In recent years, as I have grown fonder of children’s books, I also felt the need to write children’s literature myself for future generations, as well as for the child within us all, in the hopes to leave something behind that contributes to positive change.
Encouragement to follow one’s dreams is found everywhere in this city and without it I believe I would be on a different path today.
What challenges did you face upon moving here?
Moving to Los Angeles definitely comes with its struggles. Finding a new home, friends, work and a place to fit in. The initial growing pains that I encountered after moving here had a huge impact on my personality. However, my desire to stay made me stronger and more driven than ever.
I do encourage everyone who feels a pull to live abroad to dive right into the adventure! I would not change a thing. Being surrounded by so many people with different cultural backgrounds and their stories generally creates a more open mindset. I am grateful that my young self sought after a more adventurous lifestyle that opened my mind up to different ideas and ways of living.
That being said, with all the beauty that can be found in Los Angeles, its surrounding cities and the easy accessible nature, one does get confronted with a harsh reality from time to time. The ever-growing homeless population, the presence of local gangs and a much higher crime rate than in European cities. Living in any city comes with a price. I am fortunate enough, like most of us immigrants, to enjoy the best of both worlds.
What do you love about California?
What I love about California is that people encourage you to chase your dreams and don’t judge the lifestyle you choose so easily. You can start a conversation with almost anyone on the street, and the close proximity to the ocean and the mountains is something truly special. The positivity, that can be found here is extremely inspiring and contagious.
Is ‘Heimweh’ haunting you sometimes?
After sixteen years of living abroad I built a strong circle of friends, a lot of them share a similar German speaking background and humor. This helps especially with the occasional “Heimweh”. We get together a lot to play board games just like I used to do growing up in Austria.
Your Thoughts on life in L.A. as an Expat?
One thing that people tend not to mention after having left their home in exchange for a new one is that most of us immigrants always feel torn between two places and that we can’t live without one or the other.
Something I could definitely live without though is the notorious traffic! And I would recommend anybody, who moves here to get ready to make use of that time spent sitting in the car. Start listening to audiobooks, make phone calls and maybe even start learning a new language.
Thank you, Maria, for taking the time and sharing your story with us! We wish you much luck in the city of Angels and lots of inspirational moments for your art.
Images ©Maria Loewenstein