Few artists do it all: murals, portraits, sculpture, set design and props, even T-shirt design. Still fewer are self-supporting. But Marybeth Hanrahan—arguably Ventura’s most recognizable artist—is beating the odds a few miles from the ocean on Ventura Avenue, where she lives and works on a small property dotted with avocado trees and frequented by a stray cat she fondly calls Leonitus.
Better known as “MB,” the artist is a study in contrast. It’s a mistake to make assumptions based on her bleached dreadlocks or the dilapidated exterior of the twenties-era clapboard house she shares with her boyfriend, Rick, and a ball python named Susie. In fact, the outside of Hanrahan’s self-described “white trash” home belies a thoughtful interior restoration, and her six-page resume documenting grant work, philanthropy, lectures, and work in the movie industry gives a glimpse into the depth and duration of her career.
For MB Hanrahan, home is more than a domestic space—it’s visual eye candy, a pseudo art installation. “I think that I be in this house, and live out in the world,” she chuckles, lounging in her explosively scarlet red living room. “I’m visual, and where other people want functionality I get pleasure from seeing things set up.” One of Ventura’s original artists, Hanrahan arrived on the heels of Paul Lindhard and the wave of Art City artists more than two decades ago, settling in on the Westside where she would later create one of her most notable murals: the Tortilla Flats mural project.
Her living room—a cross between new age hair salon and Bedouin tent—is remarkable not just for the dramatic color that washes up the walls into the coved ceiling and the faded red, banana-shaped velvet couch gifted to her by an adopted grandmother, but for a set of vintage hairdressing chairs (their heating helmets were once fitted with speakers). “They’re super comfortable!” she chimes. “I’ve had these for ages and always knew I wanted to use them. This just finally seemed like the perfect place.” All of which makes sense when you realize that to Hanrahan, art is best when it’s participatory. And a reaction means success.
The rich color palette throughout the house is no accident; whatever magic it takes to make multiple colors work together, she has it. Here, all the rooms’ colors correspond to the Tibetan prayer flag: a screaming saffron covers the dining room walls where she faux finished the built-in china cabinet and woodwork, watched over by the collection of wood skeletons she fashioned into tarot cards set up in the corner. The walls of her “bitchin’ bedroom” are a midnight blue; its doors are painted black. The bright studio in the back of the house feels more like a sunroom made moody with dove grey walls.
Although the property was considered uninhabitable when she bought it, for Hanrahan it was just another blank canvas, a new place to “set up.” She went to work renovating and restoring, with an eye toward both creating character and maintaining the integrity of what was original. One could not be accomplished without the other. She pulled up worn, faded carpets to reveal oak floors patinaed by time into a rich golden hue. Plasterers repaired extensive cracks in the walls in order to retain the original plaster’s texture. And she faux-finished all the woodwork in the house—yet another marketable skill in her artistic arsenal.
The kitchen, with its original butter and spring green tile, is the most undeveloped part of the house, but it suits Hanrahan. A year after moving in, she painted an Irish Buddhist-themed mural on two adjoining kitchen walls, and today she displays her skull mask collection here, just a small part of her extensive skeleton collection. For Hanrahan, being a muralist is a form of channeling. “Painting on walls is an ancient art form, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid,” she says. Raised by an Emmy-award winning writer father and artist mother, her artistic inclinations were encouraged early on. Today, her murals and artwork are found throughout Southern California, many of them in schools and on public buildings.
At the heart of her decades-long work experience are roots in formal training. She received a fine art undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz and a master’s degree from Humboldt State. But Hanrahan isn’t dreamy-eyed about art. Rather, she’s pragmatic, preferring to listen and collaborate. “I don’t impose myself when I work. I do what is needed and appropriate,” she explains. The T-shirts she designs every year for Jimmy Buffet’s annual summer concert tours, a gig that has lasted for more than a decade, are evidence: the tropical-themed designs are unlike anything in her personal space.
Although the house is nestled between what Hanrahan calls a “sister house” and a block-style warehouse/factory, she isn’t bothered in the slightest. In fact, she takes advantage of the looming white wall during the summer months, using it as an outdoor movie screen and inviting friends over for popcorn. “I’ve only lived on the Westside, and I love it here. It’s the last frontier.”