Midnight at Malibu
Launching the 2011 season at Meulensteen, artist Zach Harris presents a "nocturnal" survey of the Los Angeles art scene. Taking his cue from "Midnight at Malibu", a song written in the 1950s by his Los Angeles based Tin Pan Alley-musician grandfather Victor Harris (1911-2010), the show eschews the superficial ethos and image-obsessed culture that typically satirize the place in order to render a deeper, darker side of the City of Angels. Nocturnes, landscape abstraction, beach assemblage, Chet Baker, Greek mythology and the psychedelic experience all haunt the content of the exhibition.
In Zach Harris’s words:
The show’s tonal concept derives from the nocturnal, deep blue mood that the title suggests. The experience of the beach at night is its central theme: the oceanic gestalt, the psycho-visual abstractions generated by near darkness, and the immersive rhythms of a vast moving landscape. Specific attention was paid to certain visual and transformative aspects of “darkness”, primarily the compression of light and visual information, which leads to a marked sublimation of criticality and detail, and thus to a feeling of heightened sensual awareness and increased sensitivity to the projections of the imagination. Such experiences may transform the immanence and seeming irrefutability of reality (particularly of day, with its sharp delineated space and suggestions of platonic form) into a multiplicity of illusions and quixotic inventions. Just as darkness can be understood as a negation of our usual visual (and cultural) orientation or as a respite from the daily tide of incessant images, so too can an artwork, if it is going to be successful, offer a graphic separation from “normative” perception and being. This “separate” world within the artwork can offer an active viewer alternative models for conceiving vast possibilities of function and meaning within the world that surrounds us.
Apart from its evocative mood, “Midnight at Malibu” was also a reference by my grandfather to the disconcerting but fascinating “dark side” that emerged in Malibu after the sun went down. This seedy pagan beach scene of “derelict souls,” “beach bums,” “romance seekers” and “musicians of the night” (as he described them) provided an arresting contrast to the generic fantasies of Hollywood or the common practices of Sunday afternoon beachgoers. In a similar spirit, this exhibition cannot be said to represent the general trends or usual suspects of the entire Los Angeles art scene. Apart from seeking out artists whose work fit the mood of the show (which disqualified many good ones), I sought out those who have developed particularly personal, idiosyncratic visual languages and whose artwork, like night itself, exudes a sense of interiority and depth. These artists are not Sunday painters or high-production, assistant-laden blue-chipsters. The “Midnight at Malibu” artists might be said to fall into the category of art-house, B-movie die-hards.
Within this category is a broad spectrum of peculiar paradigms and mutated studio practices. The show runs the gamut from the immediate world of sensual forms to the literal heights of abstraction. Some of these artworks seem to reveal the waking dream of life while others seem to deepen it. They include paint as psychoactive substance (Brian Fahlstrom), second-hand funk (David Miller), objects hanging by a thread (Sarah Cain, George Herms) shadowy truths of Plato’s Cave (J.P. Munroe, Mary Weatherford), blue Martian sunsets (Emilie Halpern), marginal painterly pursuits (Rebecca Morris), two owls lost in love (Mari Eastman), talismanic money mobiles (Sarah Cain), memories of abstract sandcastles (Paul Heyer), vivid nocturnes (Portia Hein), Beatle manifestos (Tam Van Tram), corrupted mythology (J.P Munroe) and stoned pagans embedded in the matrix (George Herms).
In this beach-brain state the world is not quite as it appears to be. All is illusion. Nothing is Flat. The nature of illusion becomes the truth of art. There are numerous chances to open doors we may have unknowingly closed, and redirect our approach to the polymorphic frontier of Midnight at Malibu.