Shotgun Review Archive

L.A. Paint

By January 20, 2009
"For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and babble, Double, double, toil and trouble, Fire burn, and caldron bubble." -William Shakespeare
Present day Los Angeles is a bubbling caldron, like a witch's brew, where a tremendous number of creative people are making interesting art. It should not be a surprise that the art reflects the conflicting personality of the city itself. According to Mike Davis in his book City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, "The ultimate world significance--and oddity--of Los Angeles has come to play the double role of utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism." Bertold Brecth's apt description of Los Angeles as both heaven and hell seems to take into account the freeways, the smog, the violence, the endlessly sunny days, the beaches, the Hollywood dream factories, the waves of immigrants, and the homeless tent cities near Bunker Hill. Add the ingredients of important schools, major collectors, museums, and lots of exhibition opportunities, and you get one of the most interesting art cities in the world. Davis talks about an "emergent university-museum mega complex" that constructs and deconstructs the city of Los Angeles. Many well-known artists like Don Suggs, Mike Kelly, and John Baldessari teach at the city's influential art schools: California Institute of the Arts, University of California Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design. These days graduate schools have become like Renaissance workshops where the relationship between master and student is far reaching and complex. The cutting edge museums, and talented artists, mixed with popular culture forms like graffiti, comic books, and car culture, makes for a heady brew. Art in Los Angeles mirrors the adolescent, dangerous, shiny, well-crafted, wasteful, violent, light-filled, and sublime aspects of this magical consumer mecca, the city of angels. The "sunshine noir" qualities of the city have been profiled in a number of major museum shows. Now we have a local offering called L.A. Paint at the Oakland Museum of California assembled by Chief Curator of Art, Phil Linares. Linares has been traveling to L.A. for many years. The 11-person show, while not comprehensive, offers up a taste of what is going on in Los Angeles. He points to 4 distinctive expressive modes: abstraction, narrative, surrealist/fantasy, and the cartoon and graffiti street-art-based "lowbrow" school. (Linares and I spoke about the rich cultural diversity of the city's restaurants and artists, which can sometimes result in the location of a good Indian or Cuban restaurant next to some interesting artist's studios in a local strip mall). Limited by time, and space, Linares decided to concentrate on painting and offers us a sampling of some contemporary artists living and working in the greater Los Angeles area. He strongly agrees with Doug Harvey, art critic for LA Weekly, who describes painting as an..." ongoing exploration of the longest lasting, most constantly reinvented medium in fine arts." Among the 11 artists, Don Suggs, Brian Fahstrom, and Hyesook Park are abstract painters. Suggs is a long time art instructor at University of California Los Angeles. His works are often task related and the outcome of this activity often results in many different styles of paintings. Featured in this exhibit are several round canvases painted in concentric circles and based on the colors found in famous paintings. In one large piece based on Picasso's Le Desmoiselles D'Avignon, the colors are painstakingly applied using turntables to make large radiating mandalas. suggs.jpg Don Suggs, Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon (Patrimony Series), 2006. Brian Fahlstrom is from Kansas City and came to Los Angeles to study at the Art Center School of Design. His biomorphic forms shift between landscape, still life, and the human figure. His lyrical work has beautiful painterly surfaces that build on his understanding of artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Degas, Valasquez, Braque and Picasso. He currently lives and works in downtown Los Angeles. fahlstrom.jpg Brian Fahlstrom, Saint, 2008. Hyesook Park, who currently lives in Eagle Rock, is originally from Korea, and paints very large grey paintings that are very evocative of Asian landscape painting. She moved to Los Angeles from Korea in 1978 to study at University of California. The large grey areas are like expanses of sky, water, or atmosphere that give respite from city life. park.jpg Hyesook Park, Civilization-Dust, 2007. Loren Holland was born in Los Angeles and studied science before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in painting and printmaking at Yale. She now lives and works in Long Beach, California. Her paintings are dream-like fantasies. Her delicately painted works feature scantily clad, sexually aware young women, surrounded by danger and society's detritus. They are like flowers among the weeds, surrounded by trash including boom boxes, drug paraphernalia, condoms, cosmetics, and guns. holland.jpg Loren Holland, Mistress of the Darkness, 2005. Esther Pearl Watson also lives in Eagle Rock. Her charming paintings tell stories about her eccentric father's fascination with space ships. She paints in a narrative faux- outsider style that resembles folk art, and reflects her interest in comics and graphic design. These paintings are based on her teenage years living in small towns in Texas where she moved around a lot, somehow always followed by a mysterious silver space ship. watson.jpg Esther P. Watson, Out to the Field, 2008. One of the best-known artists in the show is the godfather of the "low brow" school, painter Robert Williams. Williams who currently lives in the San Fernando Valley, is the founder of Juxtapoz, the art and culture magazine, a hot-rod enthusiast, and an early contributor to Zap comics and other underground comics. His painting style is illustrative, exaggerated for dramatic effect, and carefully rendered--the surfaces shine like the hood of a polished hot rod. He has always been attracted to counter-culture groups of renegades or outlaws. In his small early acrylic painting Hot Rod Race, a dramatic moment occurs as two of the hot rods, probably driven by juvenile delinquents, crash along a highway in the middle of the California desert. williams.jpg Robert Williams, Hot Rod Race, 1976. The Date Farmers are also from the "low brow" school. Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez met in a Coachella Valley art gallery and have worked as date farmers. Their collaborative work blends American and Mexican sensibilities and uses the vernacular language of sign painting, recycled materials, and images based on prison tattoos and drawings that use icons Mickey Mouse, the Playboy bunny, Jesus, the Diablo, and Sponge Bob. They work in a collage style and use magazine images, bottle caps, and poker chips. They currently have a studio in a shopping mall in Indio, famous for dates and Indian gaming casinos. Although Los Angeles is only a one-hour plane ride from the Bay Area, there is a lack of real dialogue between the 2 art communities, which is exacerbated by the persistent cultural divide between the northern and southern California. Linares hopes that his show L.A.: Paint will help to bridge that gap. In truth northern California lacks the museum-university engine, the plentitude of galleries, and the market place that fuels the energy of the Los Angeles art scene. Never-the-less there is a flowering of adventurous, small art spaces in downtown Oakland and San Francisco's Mission district. In addition, there is a long-standing independent spirit that defines some of the more established galleries and non-profit spaces. The San Andreas Fault line literally runs the length of California. We are connected by one of the largest economies in the world, wild fires, drought, and earthquakes, and we share the same fate. We can only hope that the near future will bring not only fast trains, but also more artistic and cultural exchange. L.A. Paint will be on view at the Oakland Museum of California through March 8th, 2009.

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