Cue the Monty Python reel. The constant recurrence of uprooting and upheaval hit me soon after the first interval of total engrossment, quickly riven as I hit the wall placard introducing the next artist. The show is chaptered in such a way as you meander. The LA Paint show, spanning ten such chapters, featuring 60 works, is as admirably deep as it is wide, often featuring five or six large paintings. Located in the OMCA's airy Great Hall, medium-to-high density pieces tax viewers heavily and reward equally for their mental calisthenics.
Make no mistake: This is a large buckshot survey of what makes LA tick today. What makes it cool, and substantial, is how the show's fairly narrow focus, painting, is able to broaden its reach by treating that focus as an artistic intersection, as opposed to a thudding ultimatum. Aside from competently rocking the brush, included artists have thrust into prominence through assemblage (Hyesook Park), sound art (Steve Roden), commercial art (Robert Williams), founding Juxtapoz magazine (Williams again), and farming dates (the...ummm...Date Farmers, who also do installation). No, really, it's a pretty diverse group.
I should, however, attempt to wrangle some Angeleno-specific activity. Most obvious is the lavish attention to and influence of signage. These paintings often resemble billboards in size and content. They don't skimp on details depicting marquees, and there's no shortage of corporate logos. The SoCal highway culture has nurtured vast corridors of very visual commercial advertising, and the influence penetrates all aspects of LA art. OMCA Chief curator, Phil Linhares, believes LA is the art world's emerging center, and many believe LA serves as a model of the future metropolis. This show may stand as evidence of both. Notably, it is also a call-to-arms for California arts integration, or at least more communication between the north and south. Linhares quotes L.A. Weekly writer Doug Harvey's description of painting as an "...ongoing exploration of the longest lasting, most constantly reinvented medium in the fine arts." Well put. Let's see how eleven artists define painting in LA today-a shot of each, no chaser.
Robert Williams, like a surprising number of artists here, paints with oils, but you wouldn't think so. His illustrative style summons a testosterone-juiced version of Archie's comics, yet without a trace of Veronica. How does that work? To say this undermines his fluid and virtuosic modeling, his sophisticated color handling, and his humor-driven, curious, and complex compositions. Of course, some people will hate him because he makes "tight" work, more literal and less ironic than currently fashionable. As someone who was once accused of being a "designer, not an artist" because I define and invent, I say, "play on, player." Steve Galloway, who falls into a similar category but relies more on facile juxtapositions and fantastic scenarios, really doesn't do it for me. His pedigree (CalArts, Baldessari, etc.) is strong, but I can't say the same for his content.
Linda Stark, on the other hand, fascinates me. Her incredibly tight, sculpted oil paint canvases, always square, present hyper-inflated avatar-like icons, ripped off the screen. Runaway Love is so schlocky and so California-cheesy, it's simply awesome. The Date Farmers cultivate a different cheese, smuggled in from south of the border. Their three walls of religion and corrugated capitalism, made seedy with vandalism, wall drawing, and cheap pornography, constitute a single work. The unauthorized Donald Duck painting is priceless, literally, as it'll be scrubbed from the walls upon show's end. I swear, you tear off the roof and throw in a street burrito cart and you're in Tijuana.
Enough of this so-called "representation." Brian Fahlstrom is the one artist I wish I had more time with. He's young, and his newest paintings here are hands-down his most exciting--good sign. His eye for editing compositions is unique and strange and the brushwork alone is worth the struggle (see Interharmony), but it's a slow burn. No, you don't need to get the references, either. It seems a different case, though, for Don Suggs. His spin art homages to Picasso, Leonardo, and Kruger are not especially viewer-friendly--he's really created an inner sanctum for artist appreciation. (I mean, they're literally and figuratively mandalas!) I appreciate how he dissolves form into color, but it seems a one-hit-wonder. That said, I'd love to see more of his work to decide how "multifarious" it is, as sources purport it to be.
If you need evidence that Steve Roden labors and struggles for his craft, look at the side of any canvas. This brutal degree of layering would make a wheat-paster envious. His Fruit Stripe Gum palette is gorgeous, cutting concentric shapes around muddy palette-knife patches and dabs. Roden must agree when I say, "Get Hyesook Park some windows." Her blackboard-wash paintings exude an LA murk not present outside of her back-wall expanse, though there's that one muddy Fahlstrom.... I see heaping influence, or at least similarity, to both Cy Twombly (he of the swirls) and Anselm Kiefer (he of the gray assemblage). Yet, she emerges with a rainy, battle-scarred identity. Again, I need more time here.
Loren Holland's work didn't especially snag me on any particular point. Her lone Amazon-esque females "of color"-other than pink I assume--prominently pose in various states of activity and relaxation, exuding poise and independence, yet are in part products of the symbolic spiral of objects around them. Esther Pearl Watson (really?) paints in a faux-naïve style to match the faux-sounding name. (Sorry, that's a cheap shot, but I'm leaving it in). As opposed to Holland, Watson dwells on a flat narrative, with lots of flat neighborhood kids and one flat repeating UFO, which the kids always seem to be chasing. It's the quirky true story of the artist's own upbringing in the slum-burbs of Texas. By eschewing focus on three-dimensional precision, she is able to lead with a heady charm that falls somewhere between Cabbage Patch and Garbage Pail. And now, a Pulp Fiction-like epiphany: maybe the UFO is the unstable nature of future art, and the kids are the LA artists chasing it. As long as I'm the shepherd, I honestly don't care.)Seriously, I think Linhares is right: LA came North. It's only a matter of time before it's everywhere else.
*Images: from top to bottom, Linda Stark, "Speckled Cobra, 2005," oil on panel, courtesy of the artist. Steve Roden, "before the after mentions the dust thrown, 2008," oil and acrylic on canvas, 35" x 18," courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter (Los Angeles Projects), photo by Robert Wedmeyer. Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez (The Date Farmers), "Free bingo, 2007," mixed media on metal, courtesy of the artists. Robert Williams, "Hot Rod Race, 1976," acrylic on board, 16.25" x 12.75," courtesy of the artist. Steve Galloway, "Didactic Painting #1(Museum of High Approach), 2007," oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist. Brian Fahlstrom,"Saint, 2008," oil on canvas, 76.75" x 59," courtesy of Marc Foxx Gallery. Loren Holland, "Mistress of the Darkness, 2005," oil on paper, 72" x 42," courtesy of the artist and Anna Kustera Gallery, New York.