Laurie Lipton’s “L.A. Sous-Real” at Ace Gallery displays a technical talent for transforming a personal reaction into incredibly detailed drawings. The exhibition was inspired by the “peculiar position of being a foreigner in [her] own country”, says Lipton. After living in London for over 36 years, she decided to move back to the U.S. Her drawings are a series of reactions towards her return to a now strange Los Angeles. The title plays on the ways a typically guarded Los Angeles persona might reveal an underlying vulnerability.
Lipton's drawings are infused with melancholic shades of black and white, detectable character complications, and intense shadows and lighting that evoke a somber mood. They’re not simply film stills of Humphrey Bogart-like characters, but rather obsessive and complex renderings that transcend classic film noir signifiers through use of intense cross-hatching and dramatic attention to detail; this technique reflects the cacophony of lifestyles found in L.A. Monday Morning is a three-panel drawing epitomizing routine and utter desolation. Lipton’s use of dramatic expressions draws the viewer into the emptiness and bitterness coursing through the man’s reluctant stare. From the moment he wakes, the monotony is enough to hate life just a little bit more than yesterday.
In Walking the Dog, the mundane responsibility of pet ownership is transformed by an older woman’s desperate and sad rejection of aging and her projection of this obsession with youth onto her dog. Whether through media influences or other outside factors, the reality is that many go to horrible lengths in the name of beauty and acceptance. This drawing depicts its subject as being almost numb to her own misery. Her empty expression resembles that of Barbara Kruger’s female figure in Super Rich/Ultra Gorgeous/Extra Skinny/Forever Young. As in the title and imagery of Kruger’s piece, such phrases become chants that our subconscious feeds on and gradually bestows upon our self-image. But let’s not leave out the faithful companion that has gone from being a four-legged pal to an accessory. Even the dog seems to crave attention: with her coy yet magnetizing eyes and carefully-taken steps that radiate primness from the tip of her polished nails to her slightly puckered painted lips. Keep in mind, I’m talking about the dog. The irony is that even such an attention-grabbing get-up can’t hide the desperation to be accepted.
Shop serves as a cautionary tale of how consumers can fall into the numb state of living only for the desire to obtain more. The image of endless bags fading off into the background becomes a metaphor for the excess that surrounds us. Whether it is cars and traffic, mindless spending, or subliminal messages, there is a cultural overload that has stripped us of our shame and placed us behind display windows. With this surplus-driven lifestyle reflected all around us like a bright light, we sometimes choose to escape by grasping even more tightly the handles of shopping bags; it's almost as if the act of excessive consumption turns the consumer into an object to be consumed. While we may think we are only satisfying an urge, we are also handing over our identities and becoming mannequins that are easily manipulated into wearing the latest trend.
Motifs of enhanced beauty, domesticity, agonizing routine, and consumerism are all woven together in Lipton’s drawings with meticulous care. Ace Gallery’s arrangement allows the viewer to become immersed in the unbearable lives of those who have already fallen victim to these mind-sets. Rather than trying to shock us, Lipton’s collection holds up a mirror to our society. This show’s execution reveals Lipton’s high-level artistry evident in her technical skill as well as in content that questions the values of a city that is numb to everyday reality.
Words and photos by Jessica Portillo