If you attend one day at the Los Angeles Art Show it’s like stepping into another world. Spend four days at the Los Angeles Art Show and it becomes home. And yet four days is not nearly enough time to have discussions with all the curators and artists, nor is it enough time to truly take in all the art work. But as art teaches us—it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. At the heart of the LA Art Show is a core collective of contemporary galleries that form a community of lowbrow and pop surrealist art in a corner section known as, Littletopia. And at the heart of Littletopia is the Red Truck Gallery.
Noah Antieau, curator of Red Truck Gallery, Louisiana, Missouri, is also the curator of the Littletopia event. 2015 marks the third year of Littletopia and since then the show has grown larger with galleries from around the world interested in participating. There are several passages leading to Littletopia, and from one of those passages you would find Noah and his Red Truck crew seated at a table with chairs, snacks, and drinks casually conversing with passing patrons.
The LA Art Show in general is a manic maze of visual stimuli, scattered sections of international representation, and alluring distractions. It is sensory overload. And then you find yourself walking past the only table with an ‘at home’ setup. And when you look past the Red Truck crew to their artwork on the wall, nailed up like a country saloon, you then realize these guys are the artists and they’re table setup is an invitation to step out of the maze and take a break in their world. You didn’t just happen across one cheeky booth, you happened across an entire block of cheeky booths. Either you continued toward the giant knight from Art Center College of Design at the next booth over or you made a turn to gaze at the works of Roq La Rue Gallery to then find yourself before Scott Hove’s cake archway. Whatever direction you went or whatever direction you came from, as soon as you saw that central pathway into the core of Littletopia covered with faux grass you realized you made it to the end of the maze.
Littletopia features fifteen galleries that include Red Truck Gallery, Thinkspace Gallery (Culver City, CA), Roq La Rue Gallery (Seattle, WA), La Luz De Jesus Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Spoke Art (San Francisco, CA), Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco, CA), Copro Gallery (Santa Monica, CA), Ace Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Fifty24MX (Mexico City, Mexico), Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow (Laguna Beach, CA), Estudio Antena (Vicente Lopez, Argentina), Corey Helford Gallery (Culver City, CA), Gauntlet Gallery (San Francisco, CA), Sloan Fine Art (NYC/LA), and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA).
RED TRUCK GALLERY
One of the first objects that might have grabbed your attention at the Red Truck Gallery was the tentacle chandelier created by Philadelphia based artist/photographer, Adam Wallacavage. Adam trained himself in the art of traditional ornamental plastering but did not take a traditional route. The mesmeric creatures of the deep waters swam into his imagination and inspired him to create the octopus chandeliers that he has become so famous for. Adam’s porcelain creatures have illuminated the spaces of galleries around the world from San Paolo to New York and has graced the pages of magazines such as TIME.
Beyond this aquatic fixation you find another dark obsession—the occult. Against one wall is the artwork of Bryan Cunningham, inspired by Southern hoodoo practice. Anyone who has fixed a candle, made a honey jar, or carried a mojo bag would recognize the inspiration of Bryan’s paintings. Southern African American spirituality is an amalgamation of various African traditions—hoodoo being one of the commonly spiritual traditions still practiced throughout the United States. In Bryan’s work this Southern culture, unique to America, is depicted on the rustic and yet vibrant paintings that have semblance to the original artwork used on the bottles sold at hoodoo apothecaries.
Moving along the wall are the paintings of Evan B. Harris, who at times throughout the show worked on his art. Evan is a painter, furniture designer, and all-around craftsman. In a discussion he explained to me as he was antiquating one of his own paintings that after some time he will pick up one of his older works and make alterations. For him, a piece of art is never finished, or rather, that it always has the potential to transform. As he moves on to new experiences he will occasionally see something new in an older work and bring it forward in its own evolution.
Evan B. Harris
Beside Evan’s work was the photography of Ransom & Mitchell. A very dark cirque theme, the photography reminiscent of travelling circuses, sideshows, and vaudeville. Entertainment in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was not polished or filtered. The use of human abnormalities, sometimes not actually abnormal but culturally different, was the horror before the silver screen haunted every small town and village. The darkness of fact is stranger than fiction is prevalent in the works of Ransom & Mitchell in their Rough and Ready Sideshow series.
Ransom & Mitchell (featuring Nik Sin)
NEW EYE-ACCD PROJECTS
One of the great things that Littletopia offered the art community was the opportunity for recent Alumni from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for the New Eye-ACCD Projects to showcase their work. The opportunity was not just to give a platform for the young artists to showcase their work, but for them to engage the public, to gain experience discussing their work, answer questions, and get comfortable seeing masses of people acknowledge or critique their work. But they were not just thrown to the wolves. They had their professor encouraging them and passing on his wisdom for engaging the waves of emotions and thoughts an artist experiences when confronted by…the audience.
After the Art Center we come to FIFTY24MX. This is a Mexico City based gallery featuring Ericailcane, Saner, Miss Van, Mariana Magdaleno, Victor Castillo, Carl Cashman, Yoh Nagao, Ciler, Fidia Falaschetti, and Meredith Dittmar. The LA Art Show brought in an international community and Littletopia as well provided a platform for international contemporary artists to represent their cultures. Fifty24MX promotes artists from various countries, but they primarily promote the contemporary artists of Mexico who are channeling the essence of Mexican tradition into a modern incarnation for a new generation. One version of this dialogue between generations I found was in the work of Ciler. His distortion of found images appears to be a mix of street art and Andy Warhol photo manipulations. They are corrupted, and yet attractive. The colors are bright, not dark, as if to evoke excitement in deterioration, not misery. There is a glamorous release of energy found in dissipation. Most of us can relate to this from our youth. How many of us indulged while our twenties dissolved around our depravity. There is something sexy in the experience of naivety, which is why the youth are targeted by corporate industries.
As you turned the corner from Fifty24MX you probably found a crowd gathered around the larger than life sculptures of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali by Kazuhiro. These sculptures were originally before the Copro Gallery, but since they drew such a consistently large crowd, wanting to take pictures, the pieces were moved just outside the Littletopia block to keep the center aisle from being congested.
This brother gallery to Hashimoto Contemporary featured the work of Casey Weldon, Caia Koopman, and a debut piece by rock poster god, Chuck Sperry, Maia. His psychedelic art nouveau posters have a unique quality of freezing the motion of his subjects in order to begin making your world spin. It reminds me of the spoon scene in The Matrix. It’s not the Chuck Sperry poster that is bending, it’s your mind that is bending.
California native Caia Koopman has a signature painting style that embraces a West Coast street edge. Every Frankenstein needs his bride and the works of Caia show both a dark and streetwise side to the feminine mystique. Strongly inspired by California’s tattoo, surfing, and skateboarding subcultures her art paints a picture of our generation finding a still place in chaos. I know the Dutch masters were masters, but I’m glad to know that future generations will look back at our times and reference colorful works like Caia’s for understanding our contemporary urban spiritual consciousness.
Across from Spoke Art was Thinkspace Gallery. Thinkspace offered a special treat perfect for the recently released film Big Eyes by showcasing a Margaret Keane painting. Who caught my eyes was the work of David MacDowell. David’s lowbrow assault on popular culture is both humorous and absurd—but honestly, the subject matter makes you question whether the artistic depiction is more absurd or the literal subject matter itself, such as Kanye Kardashian. The infamous prima donna couple is warped into one juicy ego in the painting that portrays the recent controversial photo shoot of Kim posing nude. In another painting David interprets the fairly modern mythology of Alice in Wonderland, exposing the children’s story for all the corruption of innocence that is pregnant in its meaning. Alice in Wonderland is quite appropriate as in many of his paintings David illustrates an adventure into mayhem. The social apocalyptic commentary is abundant of celebrity icons, film references, drugs, and many other opiates for the masses.
Adjacent from Thinkspace was Hashimoto Contemporary who showcased works by John Wentz, Jessica Hess, and Erik Jones. The John Wentz painting, Totem, is kind of hard to miss. Not only is it the largest painting on display, it is the darkest in color and seemingly in content. With her eyes closed, her mouth erased by the brownish red paint that is also smeared about her gentle form it appears the entire painting has been bruised. Yet at the edges is a pale color light, showing that this red is not the original state of the atmosphere but is subject to the condition of the woman.
A new painting by Erik Jones was also showcased for the art show. In the painting an aura of geometrical broad strokes create a rushing movement around a screaming skull, as if the emotion of this lifeless skeleton issued from its jaw in vibrations invisible to the eye, only manifest by Erik’s brush. And like many of Erik’s paintings, the central subject, be it a woman or a skull, is unfinished as far as their body is concerned. The colored strokes almost serve as an ethereal body morphing in or out of the physical form. The realist depictions of human form obstructed by clashes of color is Erik’s portrayal of polarized identities—the balance, or better yet, the compromise of spirit and self, mind and body, form and imagination.
Copro brought us the Andy Warhol and Dali sculptures by Kazuhiro. They also showcased Chet Zar, Odd Nerdrum, Chris Mars, Tokyo Jesus, and Jim Mckenzie, all of whom, except Odd Nerdrum, will feature pieces in Copro’s upcoming Conjoined V exhibition. I say it as a compliment that Copro brought the dark side to the LA Art Show. It’s within Littletopia that the dark side has a safe space to hang. Darkness is inherit in art. It’s commonly thought of that art is meant to depict and glorify the beauty of the world, but hindsight is always 20/20. Take a closer look at the history of art movements and you will find how the dark side prevailed in the twilight of transformation. It is during this period of transition that we fear the ‘monsters’ of change, but once we have become accustomed to change it is those very monsters that we redefine as the standard of beauty. Copro Gallery displays the monsters in the grotesque renderings of artists such as Chet Zar and Tokyo Jesus, and yet, these pieces are well executed. They are fine art. They are not monsters for monsters sake. There is a philosophy behind each piece. There is intention that the artist invested into the work. We have to ask ourselves if the artist intended to shock us, or that the artist transformed their own darkness into a piece of art to reveal to us the alchemy of psychological emancipation through creative expression.
SLOAN FINE ART
Owned and curated by Alix Sloan the gallery showcased the works of Jessicka Addams, Brad Woodfin, Elizabeth McGrath, Jonathan Viner, Eric Finzi, Susan Siegel, and Casey Weldon. Between former singer of Jack Off Jill and Scarling, Jessicka Addams, and the infamous Bloodbath McGrath, the façade of innocence hiding behind pastels, cute animals, and young girls is no more than pulling the sheep costume from off the wolf. Even Susan Siegel plays on the absurdity of appearances by painting the bourgeois class as pigs fitted in Victorian silks. Though I would say with Jessicka’s work it is not so much the revelation of illusion as it is the release of absolution.
Sloan’s exhibit expanded outside the main perimeter of Littletopia to accommodate the sculptures/paintings of Mike Stilkey. Mike uses the spines of stacked books as his canvas in several works showcased at the art show. Not only was it creative in that one could dismantle the painting book by book, but also how he arranged the stack like a sculptor. I honestly can say that of sculpting with used books, Mike Stilkey is the master.
Antena Estudio, like Fifty24MX, works to represent the progressive works of contemporary Mexican artists with traditional art techniques and forms that distinguish the beauty of Mexican culture. The gallery featured very striking works by Gregorio Barrio who created a series of beaded skulls, supporting the gallery’s intention to present works encompassing traditional Huichol folk art and contemporary art. Another piece the gallery presented was “Cuernavaca,” by Andres Basurto. Andres has a series of mosaic skull sculptures created from broken glass wine and beer bottles and resin putty. The relation of a beer or wine bottle being a container of an alcohol spirit is quite appropriate for his use for the glass as a container for the human spirit. And what we see is a delicate piece dependent upon the position of the sculpture that will determine how the light will be reflected from the skull. As our bodies are just as delicate, and just as dependent upon how we situate ourselves to determine how we reflect light, or caste a shadow.
ROQ LA RUE GALLERY
Seattle based gallery Roq La Rue showcased the works of Travis Louie, Chris Berens, Peter Furguson, Chie Yoshi, Jeff Jacobson, Femke Hiemstra, and Sail. It was one of Roq La Rue’s central paintings that drew me into their gallery, Chris Berens’ “Diaspora.” The paintings of Chris Berens have this effect of moving toward you, or is it perhaps a feeling of entering the painting? Even before grasping the multifarious subjects integrated into the work the concept is emotionally felt through the disarray of cloudy ether highlighted by spots of light. The murky atmosphere is a mystery unfolding. It is as though the clouds are separating as we peer down from the sky into another world—a world in which we can navigate, but one where we carefully observe the veiled nature of the beasts.
LA LUZ DE JESUS
Hollywood’s own La Luz de Jesus brought their famous hallway experience by showcasing the work of Charles Binger, Harold Fox, Scott Hove, Hudson Marquez, Annie Murphy-Robinson, and José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros. Christine Wu, Shaun Berke, Dave Lebow, and Patrick V. McGrath Muñiz. Scott Hove never ceases to surprise us. His cake archway was the icing on the Littletopia cake, which emphasized the congruent theme of the contrast of sweet and sour by incorporating windows of heaven and of hell in the archway. After entering the official Littletopia cake gateway and looking to the right you would find another demonic Scott Hove creation at the front of La Luz’s booth—Ride the Demon Slayer. A fully functionally classic children’s mechanical animal joy ride, Ride the Demon Slayer is fully equipped with a spike saddle rendering it not so user friendly. And yet it’s shiny purple paint coat and gem studded coin box drew out nervous laughs from an audience getting comfortable with the dark playfulness of Scott Hove, realizing his work provoked contemplation of their own dark side as they realized, “Who wouldn’t enjoy this?”
Another noteworthy artist featured by La Luz was Damien Echols, who had two pieces displayed, Talisman of Success and Talisman of the Archangel Gabriel. Damien was sentenced to death in 1994 for the charge of a crime he did not commit and spent about eighteen years in prison. He tells his story in his memoir in the New York Times bestseller, Life After Death. What he tells in his artwork is another window into his soul. Such talismans are used in ritual for ceremonial magic. They are symbols infused with the power of intention invested by the creator, which tells me that despite hardships Damien Echols spent his time in prison developing a profound inner life and understanding of his will. I found it inspiring to hear the story about a person wrongfully convicted and spending nearly eighteen years of their life in prison to develop spiritual wisdom and free themselves within their mind. I can honestly say that I’ve spent more than eighteen years reaching for such enlightenment while not being in prison and I have struggled—which brings up the argument of the definition of imprisonment.
Around the corner from La Luz was a booth by Ace Gallery. This booth was one of three booths that Ace Gallery had at the LA Art Show, each varying in size. Their booth at Littletopia displayed works from The Date Farmers, which is a collaboration between Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez. Comparable to Red Truck Gallery’s depiction of American Southern culture, the Date Farmers show the rustic Mexican-American street culture of the Southwest. The American dream has been a different experience for many classes of American citizens and the Date Farmers project this reality by casting it over American memorabilia.
The Date Farmers
Gauntlet Gallery opened in 2012 in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, curated by Luke Lombardo. One of the featured artists, Fab Ciraolo, is a prime example of the modern lowbrow art movement. By taking iconic figures from Frida Kahlo to Frankestein, Fab Ciraolo converts them into a modern punk version. However, one questions whether this is a commentary showing how the artists of previous generations are recycled through the decades, or perhaps it depicts how the artists of previous generations would mock what we’ve done to art and fashion. The artists revamped in Ciraolo’s work reflect the essence of glam. Glam is not pretty, it’s rebellion. Coloring inside the lines and interpreting another’s standards is fashionable, not glamorous. The true decadents throughout history set standards, they did not follow them. By using artists like Dali, Ciraolo unites contemporary references with historic decadents to redefine the era of decadence—it’s not black and white. It’s hues of colors that fade upon each other to highlight one another.
ARTISTS REPUBLIC 4 TOMORROW
This Southern Californian gallery showcased Zio Ziegler, Dennis McNett, Casey O’Connell, Rich Jacobs, Super Future Kid and Trace Mendoza. The work of Zio Ziegler is chaos contained physically, order unraveled mentally. There is no beginning nor ending to his work. The eye is drawn to semblances of forms but as we focus on the detail and see the geometrical patterns bleeding out into blotches of descending color our attention races across the painting to find stability. Stand back and you will see there is a central figure amidst the electric atmosphere. The character is absurd to the intellectual mind in that it does not draw the mind to a narrow point but expands it indefinitely to the imagination. Zio works on both smaller canvases and larger urban exteriors. His paintings are neo-tribal expressionist works—tribal being the psyche or perhaps the spirit. We are all native to our own mind and Zio Ziegler’s works evoke that arcane spirit transient to our modern ephemera.
This Santa Monica gallery is the last on our route, but certainly not the least, showcasing Ciou, D*Face, Eine, Hikari Shimoda, Natalia Fabia, Hush, Nouar, Buff Monster, Soey Milk, and So Youn Lee. Sherri, director of the gallery, introduced to me to several gems including D*Face and Buff Monster. The art of Buff Monster is just what you would think it would be—cute little monsters. Do you see a sugar and spice theme in contemporary art? The 80s have long been over and the dark ghoulish fiends have been replaced by sugar coated monsters. I personally don’t trust cute things and artists like Buff Monster confirm my intuition by revealing the balanced nature of the light and the dark. We can present ourselves as cute and cuddly all we want, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a creature lurking below the calm waters of our chirpy disposition.
D*Face, a sort of neo-Lichtenstein, captures noiresque cult classic phantasmagorias through paintings and street art. Which brings up a point. Many galleries at the LA Art Show might not acknowledge or approve of the rising of street artists into fine art galleries—even though Andy Warhol and Basquiat are in museums. But the LA Art Show has in fact shown a shift in consciousness by bringing in more street artists, even outside the Littletopia utopia. Cities nationwide are now hiring graffiti and street artists to paint murals on buildings. That underground voice has surfaced, and Corey Helford is on the front lines of the art revolution delivering that message.
When we enter Littletopia we see a dialogue between tradition and contemporary expression as with the artists of Red Truck Gallery, Antena Estudio, and Fifty24MX. We see the corruption of popular icons as with the artists of Gauntlet Gallery and Thinkspace. We see the polished disorder of fine art as with the artists of Spoke Art, Hashimoto Contemporary, and Roq La Rue. Artists call out to us from the streets such as those of Ace Gallery and Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow. We see the absurdity of sweet and sour from artists such as those found at La Luz, Sloan Fine Art, and Corey Helford. All these galleries at some point have or will show all these varieties of artists. The concepts, techniques, messages, and styles within Littletopia are as diverse and ever changing as any other community within society. The very essence of lowbrow art is to dig even deeper below the underground in order to constantly recalibrate the social frequency from becoming static. It is this originality and diversity that brings the Littletopia community together. And it is this union that we all look forward to at the LA Art Show in 2016.
Event photography courtesy of Ambrose Gardenhire