A very happy new year to you and yours! Here’s to hoping 2017 is the most awesome year ever (and, if not that, then to hoping that at the very least it’s better than the craziness that was 2016)! We’re marking the occasion with this yummy 2017 chocolate cupcake and some Champagne.
We never tire of revisiting this minimalist masterpiece by artist Robert Irwin at LACMA in Los Angeles. The colorful installation of fluorescent lights has a permanent home in a large ground-floor gallery at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary building. The title of the artwork is “Miracle Mile” and it is specific to its location.
The museum is on Wilshire Blvd. at the heart of an area named Miracle Mile, which was originally planned as an alternative urban district to Downtown LA in the 1920s. Wilshire eventually became one of LA’s main east-west traffic and business corridors and the “mile” area has since become a kind of “museum row” for the number of other large galleries and museums nearby.
Irwin’s artwork, in its length, geometry and brightly illuminated presence, is a visual metaphor for the commercial strip and aptly is displayed on a wall that faces and runs parallel to Wilshire Blvd itself. A long floor-to-ceiling window in size and proportion similar to the artwork separates the gallery from the boulevard and makes “Miracle Mile” a kind of symbolic mirror.
The British artist Dean Stockton, a.k.a., D*Face, has developed one of the most recognizable and epic bodies of street art to grace the world’s urban landscapes. His work evolved from the a series of noteook doodles of weird, comic, anthropomorphic humaoid creatures. Then he started making stickers of this artwork, eventually moving on to the more familiar and popular street art medium of wheatpaste posters and, later, paintings, massive murals and sculptural objects. A prime example of one of these larger-than-life murals is the one pictured here in Culver City, in Los Angeles. It’s titled “Going Everywhere Fast” and can be found on the side of the Corey Helford Gallery on Washington Blvd.
DFace’s work reminds us a lot of the post-modern pop art of Roy Lichtenstein. The parallels in the graphical, comic style are unmissable. Where Lichtenstein found inspiration and material from the inky, pixel-dotted soap-opera comics of American newspapers of the 1950s and ’60s, Stockton’s style has the smoother look of the contemporary graphic novel and its richly-printed rendering of scanned drawings. Lichtenstein often made the texts of the comics a crticial part of the artwork. He included the characters’ short dialogues and internal monolgues that appeared as speech and thought bubbles in the comic. This added a dimension of irony, drama, commentary or amusement (sometime all at once) and gave deeper meaning to the visual. D*Face’s works, on the other hand, usually don’t have speech or thought bubbles. It is left to the viewer to imagine what the chacacters are thinking.
Some visual themes have emerged in DFace’s style. A lot of these recent murals features a man and a women, a couple with their relationship implied but unclear. There are cars or motrocycles included. Motion and speed are suggested in the compositions. The woman is a pale blond bombshell. A sad or worried expression is on her face. She displays freakish antler-like white wings sticking out from the sides of her head, which refers back to the charcaters of D*Face’s earliest drawings. The man is shown as slightly grotesque, his skin green like a Frankenstein and his face serious and etched with hard wrinkles.
The popular appeal of DFace’s artwork is obvious. It is an easy visual read, accessible and poignant. He has benefited from having his work exposed to an audience beyond the galleries and streets, beyond followers of contemporary art or street art scenes. Fans of American pop-punk band Blink-182 will recognize D*Face’s artwork on the cover of their recent 2016 album “California.”
“Hot Mess” is the title of an artwork by Doug Aitken that features a beautiful photograph showing an aeriel view of the Las Vegas strip at night. The image is displayed as a back-lit circular framed object mounted to the gallery wall. At the center of the photo, just above the bright lights of the city, is the title of the artwork in a standard serif font.
There’s humor in this artwork, one of dozens currently on view as part of the artist’s massive retrospective exhibition “Electric Earth” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a.k.a., MOCA, in downtown Los Angeles. “Hot Mess” is part of series of circular photographic works that marry text and image in intriguing and ironic ways. In the case of this piece, the words evoke and connect several notions about Las Vegas.
Vegas is a unique and strange city among America’s big cities, and for that matter it’s unlike any city in the world in ways that are both obvious and not-so-obvious. As a tourist in the unlikeliest of geographical places, Vegas has traded on its image of being home to several forms of legalized vice, and an image of moral laxity when it comes to this. Gambling, partying, hotel resort travel, and various types of adult entertainment (in addition to entertainment in general), plus a slew of massive trade shows and conventions, and flamboyant, whimsical architecture — all in the middle of the desert — make the city singular and a kind of “mess” culturally and symbolically.
The term evokes the idea of somebody or a thing that is scatterred, disorganized, troubled and possibly pathological. Vegas can seem like that. Much like a freshly spewed pile of vomit — from which the term “hot mess” is metaphorically derived — on the pavement from a drunk college student after chugging too many Jager shots. And Vegas is kind of like that. But it’s only one facet.
And yet, it has its own beauty. Seen from afar, like many cities and in the photo in Aitken’s artwork, Vegas appears like a glittery jewel, a Milky Way galaxy of neon and LED coalesced into a distant blur of energy, enterprise, and urbanized humanity.
Last weekend, we stumbled upon this throw pillow with the words “Locals Only” embroidered on it at the Mollusk Surf Shop in Silver Lake in Los Angeles. The pillow is a funny, cute mash-up of old-school, cliched surf-culture sentiment and a folksy, homespun style more fitting in grandma’s living room than a surfer fort at Lunada Bay. It’s not the kind of item that the average surf shop would stock, but then Mollusk is not an average surf shop and Silver Lake is not your average surf shop locale. It’s not a laidback seaside surf haven. That there’s even a surf shop in Silver Lake at all is an anomaly.
Mollusk originated in San Francisco where it made a name for itself that traveled far beyond the Bay Area. It established a style and a reputation for great taste. And for selling interesting, quality surfboards from shapers who made their boards by hand and were influenced by retro designs. Whether it was a shortboard, longboard for a 1970s-inspired “mid-length” board with a single fin, by and large many of these surfboard makers themselves appreciated design and style and their aesthetic tastes were reflected in their boards. (And, by the way, yes, we surf and we enjoy nerding out on this stuff.)
Then Mollusk opened up branches in LA. One is in Venice, LA’s infamous and gritty (if now largely gentrified) beach town. It’s not a mecca of great surfing nor great waves. In fact, the surf at Venice Beach sucks most of the time. But it is a block from the beach and central for the greater LA metro area, and it’s a hub for a creative surfer community. Surfers still paddle out into the waves at the Venice breakwater most days in spite of the poor surf conditions.
Then there’s Silver Lake. It doesn’t have Venice’s location or vibe, but there’s a niche demographic overlap. SLake is home to a class of fashionable creative types (music, film, art, advertising, design), both the moneyed kind and the less-moneyed aspiring kind, and it’s a magnet for a generation of hipsters, some of whom surf or pretend to. Mollusk is right at home here and yet it’s also totally legit, albeit with those ironic, stylish “Locals Only” throw pillows strategically placed in the store.
“Locals Only” has come a long way. It was the kind of thing that one often encountered back in the ’70s and ’80s in the form of crudley spray-painted graffiti near remote or hardcore surf spots along Pacific Coast Highway or at a handlulf of certain “localised” beaches in the string of seaside communities up and down the California coast or in Hawaii. It was a warning to outsiders, one tinged with menace, not to surf that beach … or else. This localism was the harder-edged face of surf culture. So to see those words rendered on the kind of soft, cuddly pillow you might cozy up to on a sofa while sipping a cup of tea and savoring the prose of a Maya Angelou novel, well, it’s funny and brilliant. Its trick is how it both deflates the inherent threat and danger associated with those words while in another way making those words even scarier.
The first time you see “Death of a Clown” by artist Liz Craft, you can’t help but want to get up close to and examine it, to bear witness to its texture in detail, as if to confirm that the woman lying on the sofa is not real. You know its not a real person, you assume she’s not real, but a part of you thinks she could be, like those street performers who pretend to be statues. It could be a real person, lying deathly still, forezen underneath a thick coat of ghostly-pale make-up and improbable orange hair. And you can’t help but think of Sleeping Beauty. And of a character in a Hayao Miyazaki anime film. Unreal, yet rendered in three dimenions, life-sized, in the actual physical space of a gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
But this is a sculpture, an object. There is no performer.
Craft is a Los Angeles-based artist who runs the Paradise Garage art space and collective in Venice Beach. Her faux-naive sculptural objects and installations have a whimsical, fantasy quality, though, as in the case of “Clown,” there’s a sense of realism baked into the layer of dreamy, fantastical imagery. The colors beguile, at once bright and muted, at once like saturated and then over-exposed like some old polaroids discovered in a shoebox at a flea market.