Alex Chiu's house in Culver City, or the "Culver Den," as he and fiancee Ann Matsushima call it, is a mess.
But it's a beautiful mess.

The garage is converted into an art studio, the floor speckled with neon paint. The house itself is filled with old records, fliers and artwork from fellow creatives. One room, a recording studio, is packed with instruments.

In the backyard, there's a handmade screen propped in a corner to project movies.

This mess is also the home of a fresh art collective Chiu and Matsushima take part in.

"It's a group of similar-minded people who want to define their generation and define being Asian-American right now and talk about a lot of different issues," said Chiu, 25.

Chiu and a few other members of the collective are participating in "Attack of the Megalodon," a family-friendly sea creature-themed art show opening tonight at Neighborhood Grinds in Redondo Beach. The show, running through Aug. 16, will feature video installations, a photo booth, a DJ and a band.
Chiu has been a full-time artist for the past four years, and according to him, the stereotypes of being a starving artist are true.

"The work is inconsistent, the pay is inconsistent ... (but) I've gotten a lot of opportunities," he said.
Those opportunities include collaborating in art shows in New York, Australia, the United Kingdom and Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as selling T-shirt designs to clothing companies Volcom and Hurley.

But times have become tougher.
"It's gotten really stressful lately," Chiu said. "The economy's bad and whether or not I get work, it's not guaranteed that these shows are paid."

One of Chiu's goals is to bring legitimacy to art in the Asian-American community.
"I feel like there's a cultural backlash from our previous generation," said Chiu, who is Chinese-American. "(My parents) fought hard to get stability and I feel like we're trying to encourage other Asian-Americans to say it's OK to take a path in writing or the arts or expression and we're trying to make it validated. It has the ability to (bring) financial success as well."

Added Matsushima: "I think in terms of Asian-Americans, there's not enough spaces or venues or platforms for Asians to speak freely or that they feel comfortable speaking freely."
Part of the mission is DIY Grad School, started by Chiu, Matsushima and other members of the art collective. The peer-to-peer education program, which meets at the "Culver Den" and other locations in the Los Angeles area, is a way of obtaining higher learning in the arts without having to pay for the tuition. The project has different focal points, from toymaking to architecture.

"We're trying to inspire other people ... to get higher education, to figure out how to teach themselves," Chiu said. "If people are willing to put the time and energy to creating something of their own, people will recognize that."
DIY Grad School hosts guest lecturers, classes and project sessions, just like a traditional college might.
"It's a political and revolutionary statement we're trying to make, to question the education system at this point," Chiu said. "It's become this exclusive system that only so many people can participate in. It seems that a lot of people have been asking to join because they have a desire for education and to learn. We're just trying to see where it'll take us."

Having an art collective also means having a support system for Chiu.
"For us, it's about developing ... a group consciousness that allows us to continue what we're doing and allows us to feel confident that what we're doing is a good thing, is right," Chiu said. "I've been doing art for such a long time and I felt like I've been doing it alone."

Chiu has published a handful of magazines and books. His latest work, "Group Poop," is a hand-bound periodical of stream-of-consciousness doodles from artists around the world.
"It's part of circles internationally, but there's not a big community of that and independent publishing here in L.A. ... I want to be the ambassador of doodles publication here in L.A."
Chiu's current artwork falls into the doodles category - that of "simple cartooning and a simple visual language of patterns and characters," like jazz for the arts, Chiu said.
He's also influenced by Tibetan art and optical illusions.

"What I get from Alex's paintings and drawings is that he had a lot of fun making them and his passion for drawing and painting is simply contagious," said Yumi Sakugawa, a member of the art collective who also is exhibiting at the Neighborhood Grinds show.

"Alex's artwork makes me think of a fun alien world full of really cool robots and aliens who are easy to make friends with."

Sylvia Masuda is a freelance writer based in Gardena.

Attack of the Megalodon: A Sea-Inspired Art Experience

When: 7 to 10 tonight.
Where: Neighborhood Grinds, 2315 Artesia Blvd., No. 1, Redondo Beach.
Admission: Free.