'Mayans M.C.' Stars Bow Art Show for Venezuelan Charity

Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic; Steve Granitz/WireImage
Carla Baratta, Michael Ornstein

Carla Baratta and Michael Ornstein's paintings are on view through Saturday at a Studio City tattoo shop, after a VIP opening attended by Adam Arkin, Dennis Haysbert and castmates from the FX drama.

On the first day Carla Baratta and Michael Ornstein sat down to do a table read as co-stars on FX's Mayans M.C., they quickly realized they had something else in common — a daily painting practice.

On Friday evening, they held a two-person art opening at the Studio City tattoo studio Mana'o Tattoo Los Angeles — Ornstein's works on one side and Baratta's on the other, complementing each other in both style and substance.

"It was amazing, because I told Michael he was my favorite character from Sons of Anarchy," said Baratta of Ornstein's fan favorite, Chucky Marstein, one of the few characters to make the jump from SOA to the spinoff show. "I didn't know he was going to be on Mayans M.C., so I saw him for the first time in the table reading, and I was like, 'Oh, my God!' We started talking that day, and he was like, 'I paint, and I'm an artist.' And I was like, 'Me too!'"

Both actors have been painting their whole lives: Ornstein as a kid in Passaic, New Jersey, and Baratta growing up in San Cristobal, Venezuela. Their paintings are both portrait-based. But that's where the similarities end.

Ornstein's work is freewheeling and chaotic. He describes his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink method, in which he uses oil paint, spray paint, pastels and marker to create characters about whom he often writes long stories that surround their heads.

"There's this painting in this show called Jailhouse Ballads that's got 16 portraits with stories literally written some over their faces," Ornstein said. "And I exhibited that in Terra Haute, Indiana, in a gallery there, and I got 16 local people — a lot of them weren't even actors — and they performed all the text, and it ran for 70 minutes. It was like a fucking play. … I like to make my work active and interactive. I like it to be alive, as opposed to, 'Yeah, it's just a painting or text.' I like to bring an element of performance into it, and storytelling."

As much as Ornstein's work is based in a gritty realism, Baratta's work is mystical and emotional. Baratta, who plays the hardened Adelita on Mayans M.C., works with two disparate styles — with ink, she creates precise lines and patterns that are reminiscent of constellations. She also makes colorful, scruffier oil paint portraits. For this show, for the first time, she combined the two styles on the same canvas.

"It's someone hugging someone else," Baratta said of her favorite painting in the show. "I think that's the first one that I did combining both techniques. It was really interesting, because when I saw the result, I was like, 'This makes so much sense.' And from there, I started just doing it, and it's been a beautiful way for me to understand that I have to create these two things together, because we're not just one-dimensional beings. We're three-dimensional. We have a body, we have a soul. So I think this painting is the first moment that I was like, 'Oh, I have to put these things together. I have to work in my spiritual side, and in my body and my real being together.' So, that's an important painting for me. I didn't want to sell that one."

Mayans M.C. co-stars J.D. Pardo, Emily Tosta, Emilio Rivera, Michael Irby and Sarah Borger, along with other actors including Adam Arkin and Dennis Haysbert, came by the opening and enjoyed refreshments provided by cannabis dispensary Buds & Roses.

Proceeds from the sales of the works, which range from $500 to $25,000 (for Ornstein's Jailhouse Ballads), will go to benefit Karttos International, a non-profit started by Mayans M.C. co-star Tosta's mother. The charity creates care packages of necessary items and mails them directly and privately to citizens in Venezuela, targeting two cities per month.

"One of the reasons we are here tonight is we are trying to help Venezuela," Tosta said at the opening. "Venezuela is going through the saddest moment in the country's history. Hundreds of people are dying and there are kids starving. So we created this charity, because my mom is from Venezuela. We've been able to get medicine and food to hundreds of people. Hopefully we can change their tears into smiles."