Every once in a while, people ask me who my favorite artists are. It's a hard question to answer because there are so many. I often try to name living artists, so people can look them up and maybe support them.
A few years ago I got to meet the great Lou Beach, who, for my money, is one of our greatest living collagists. Lou has been around for years, but he still has a beatnik kind of swag and a soul-patch. He is one of those cool Echo Park guys that came of age in the 1950s (his given name was Lubisch -- I know this because his daughter Alpha is a friend of mine and also a world-class collagist herself).
I don't know Lou well, but he is part of the gang I hang with out in Los Angeles. When I am in town, a gathering of art hoodlums is assembled. It includes the great Hudson Marquez, sculptor and gear-head and Rock ‘n Roll veteran; Billy Shire, proprietor of La Luz de Jesus -- the birthplace of “low-brow” art, and where a whole passel of us got our start in L.A.; Ian McShane, the fine Scottish actor known for playing Al Swearengen (the guy who calls everyone Cocksucker) on HBO's Deadwood;and, when he is in town, Dave Alvin, my favorite member of the combative Blasters -- the great rockabilly, R&B, soul-driven outfit that sounds as great today as they did in 1980. It is heady company to be in, to be sure -- and I'm flattered that when I'm in L.A., there is a place at the table for me.
The first time I ever saw Lou's name was on a Neville Brothers album cover. Lou did the art for Fiyo on the Bayou, and I had been hired to do the next album, Yellow Moon. I was nervous -- Lou's piece, depicting burning crocodiles slithering out of the Louisiana swamp, was one of the coolest album covers I'd ever seen. I thought, Fuck, I have to follow this guy? Why they didn't just rehire Lou was unfathomable to me. After that, I started seeing his credit a lot in the New York Times, and he was always letter-perfect -- witty, economical, never too much or too little.
Over the decades, my respect and admiration for him grew. He knew something about melding images, words and other elements that went beyond the mere cobbling together of things. Lou's collage work followed a poetic logic, until it was time to follow poetic illogic -- often within the same picture.
Lots of artists are clever, but Lou Beach is smart. What is “craft” in a lesser artist's work, is Art -- capital “A” -- in Lou's flawless execution. This has never gotten him rich, but believe me you: anyone who makes collages knows the name Lou Beach, and we all steal from him.
Hell, this pretty little Blue Bull I just made? Swiped it wholesale from a Lou Beach piece. I didn't even bother changing the name. Lou has just published a gorgeous book called 420 -- no, not that 420! -- whose titled refers to the amount of characters Facebook used to allow you to put in a status update. It is also packed with his amazing art.
Buy two -- you'll want to give one to someone special. Down the road, Lou has agreed to have an exhibition at FireCat. If I am lucky, perhaps I can persuade his perpetually shy daughter to also show there. And for those of you who want to know what a great collagist is, Google “Lou Beach.” Seriously, buy one of his books -- in fact, if you're smart, you’ll buy as many as he will sell you. This is a guy I am constantly in “art-debt” to.
There is a reason for that: he is the best.
TONY FITZPATRICK is an artist from Chicago. For his blog, click here.