Los Angeles has long been home to a looser, more iconoclastic artistic vision. Perhaps it's the distance from New York's market economy that makes artists here so careless about disciplinary categories, or perhaps it's the burgeoning surf culture. In any case, L.A. boasts a number of talented artists whose work is underrated and underrepresented. It's time they showed up on the radar.
Damien Smith's elegant renderings of modernist architectural spaces and interiors, some of which are inspired by imagery from a 1970s sci-fi TV show, Space, 1999, summon up a pristine and uncompromising esthetic, in which each line has its own vernacular and unique presence. Smith's drawings of evacuated interiors seem to memorialize absence, as each room becomes the tableau for some undisclosed, yet idealized longing, like an inverted whisper heard only by a bird in a tree outside the window. Smith teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and otherwise splits his time between Montreal and Venice, Ca. He has shown his work at Paul Morris in New York and Works on Paper in L.A. and is included in the collections of San Francsico MOMA and the Walker Art Center.
The idiosyncratic paintings of dreamy-eyed workman in the throes of hard labor by Roberto Palazzo are psychologically charged and quirky. He pictures a boy's raging libido as a lascivious green monster poised at the edge of a cliff, a ribald image that is funny and unsettling. These paintings are sometimes outrageous, yet rarely do they stray from the pulse of Palazzo's insidious narrative. Palazzo, who lives and works in Echo Park and finds work as an interior designer, has shown at Delirium Tremens in Los Angeles and in "The U-Haul Show."
Eve Fowler's photos of young hustlers are odd and disquieting. The faces of these boys reveal a perverse innocence. Fowler's intention is not to uncover some deep-seated despair, or pull at any heart strings, but to create a catalogue of type to investigate the collusion of Fowler's personal vision and commitment with more formal artistic concerns. These images insinuate the viewer into each boy's own complicated, personal history. They spare no one, yet retain a quiet power. A Yale MFA grad, Fowler has shown at Julie Saul Gallery and the New Museum in New York, and is included in the collections at the San Francisco MOMA and the New Museum.
Similarly, Mark Housley's work stems from a deeply personal narrative. Many of the symbols in Housley's paintings hold private meaning, and stand as personal markers to memorialize an experience. The darkened doorway in The Marriage Of The Perpetual Lovers could be a portal into Hades, or a secret cave of possibility, a place to rejuvenate, or reclaim a self that was lost. Although Housley's images are inspired by private associations, they are not privatized, but continue to open out. Housley has had solo shows at Post Gallery and Patricia Correia Gallery in L.A. He is also active as a curator and writer, contributing to Art Issues and Juxtapoz magazine and organizing shows at Otis College and Southern Exposure in San Francisco.
Walter Foster's How To Paint books from the 1960s inspired Julie Zemel's drawings. Zemel isolates an image, or part of an image, giving the work a disassociative quality. Many of the figures in the drawings are faceless, seemingly caught in a single repetitive movement. The drawings transcend nostalgia, and appear oddly detached and sublime. The Accident is particularly weird, as the central figure appears stupefied, holding a brush between his teeth, waiting patiently for a bolt of inspiration to hit. Zemel, who teaches at Chaffy College, has shown at Patricia Correia Gallery, Whittier College Gallery and Acuna-Hansen Gallery in L.A.
Waylon Dobson is also a master of disassociation, and uses his materials to subvert conventional notions of traditional sculpture technique. Dobson confounds his own materials, using clay humorously to explicate a gesture, or exaggerate a body part. Dobson's work is whimsical, yet betrays an undercurrent of something deviant and unsettling. In Wing, Dobson has assembled a bird's wing with clay and metal bolts that hold the feathers in place. Not only is the juxtaposition of these materials unexpected, but the wing becomes a sort of albatross, weighed down by itself. Dobson has shown his work at The One Night Stand and Miller Durazo Gallery in Los Angeles. He has also done a number of public commissions in and around Los Angeles.
Another sculptor who subverts reality is Phyllis Green. Green's amorphous shapes mirror the shape of the human brain. They sit atop small, decorative pieces of driftwood like strange dissections, or creatures from a John Carpenter film. Formally, these pieces involve an obsessive economy of line and form, yet Green's sculptures are also perverse and dystopic. Like Dobson's work, these sculptures exist outside the realm of the expected, and invent their own mythology. Green has shown extensively at Jan Baum Gallery, Lemon Sky Projects, Tucson Museum of Art, Laguna Museum of Art. She has received a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship and an NEA grant. Phyllis Green teaches at UCLA and Loyola. She owns two Dobermans and a parrot named Zeppo.
In terms of prices, all of these artists's works fall within a range of $1,000 for smaller pieces and $3,000 for larger works. Damien Smith, for example, prices his drawings at $3,000, whereas a Palazzo would go for $1,000.
EVE WOOD is an artist and writer who lives in L.A.