Archive for November 2009
I get a lot of good advice from artists. We discuss the galleries, and we talk about shows at museums. I thoroughly enjoy the exchange. Recently, artist Tony Marsh reminded me of the ways that my gallery has expanded. He wasn’t just speaking about the mix of paintings, sculpture and ceramics. Instead, he cited the range of ceramics shows—-from a survey of ancient Mimbres ceramic bowls to works by Lynda Benglis. He’s right, that’s quite a spread.
Back in January of 2003, we presented a select group of classic black-on-white Mimbres bowls, painted with geometric or representational imagery. The astonishing pottery has been a passion of artists for decades. I am lucky to know an expert in the field. Well known artist Tony Berlant, a student of Native American Art, organized and assembled our show. He gave it the title “Paintings from a Distant Hand”. Like many contemporary artists, Berlant has found this timeless work from the 10th to the 12th century to be an inspiration:
“Bowl patterns often evoke a Cubist-like handling of form. The blank white interior of the bowl provides an ambiguous, dynamic field that is sliced and warped by drawing. Geometric images seems firmly anchored to the bowl edges, while representational images walk or fly into the field like dancers on a stage.”
The subject matter of the painted bowls ranges from images of birds and animals, to far more abstract patterns, referred to as geometric. Many of these seem to be abstract pictures of clouds, lightning and rain—the lifeblood of a people who farmed the arid land of what is now southwestern New Mexico.
(Note on photo above right: According to Will Slee, the “Donut Duck” was dug from his property, and is Chaco–not Mimbres. Thanks to Captain Slee for making this contribution.)
Since I’ve been posting about architecture this week, I thought it might be time to include a review of Peter Voulkos’ monumental works. What’s the connection? In 1999, the gallery presented a major show of sculpture by Voulkos. L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight addressed the “seemingly effortless artistic mastery” of the work. Knight also made reference to the process of building:
“Artistically, Voulkos is a builder. Whether hand-held tea bowls, plates displayed on stands made from steel rebar or monumental vessels, his sculptural objects share a visceral sense of having been constructed, torn down, rebuilt, pulled apart and put together yet again. The elemental associations of the clay medium are acknowledged and exploited, not denied, while clay’s transformative capacity under the intense heat of fire becomes a leitmotif in the building process Voulkos employs.”
Recently, I wrote about an old idea: use the available material. In that post, I noted that California is full of strong structures that use simple materials, and marry them to a natural setting. I also gave some examples from a fall road trip to Northern California. Fortunately, trails and wooded areas are never too far away from me, and I often walk in the Arroyo Seco, near my home. On the east and west banks of the Arroyo, there are homes built of rounded river rocks and long shaped beams. Some are legendary, part of the architectural setting for the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century.
The landscape of the Arroyo Seco was the setting for Ernst A. Batchelder’s house. Batchelder became, in the early part of the 20th century, a well-known designer and producer of decorative ceramic tile. On Arroyo Drive, at a curve on the eastern bank, sits his unimposing home and studio. It nestles into the shady oaks nearby. From the street, the front elevation shows a strong-beamed, shingled house with brick and stone at the foundation. According to architectural historian David Gebhard, a kiln still stands in the backyard, where the now-coveted Batchelder architectural tiles were first produced.
On the opposite side of the same street lies La Casita del Arroyo, a low-slung structure. I wandered around this public meetinghouse recently, and took some pictures. The hall seems to step down into the steep bank of the Arroyo, and the imposing chimney stands broad and strong. The stone construction is rough. As I learned (from David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s Los Angeles: An Architectural Guide), architect Myron Hunt “donated his services and designed this structure using boulders and sand from the Arroyo, fallen trees from higher up the canyon, and even part of the bicycle track abandoned after its use in the 1932 Olympics.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking of buildings. I tend to see architecture in the ways that artists structure their work. In the hands of Gustavo Pérez, a sandy colored stoneware clay body has become the basic building material, as well as the canvas for his composition. Whether he plans to engineer a series of lines, develops a pattern of slashes, or chooses to insert other clay elements into the surface of the clay, everything is integrated through this basic medium. Like a painter emphasizing the depth of color, Pérez will also apply glaze into the incised areas on a work, carefully and meticulously drawing our eye to the design.
Part architecture, part mathematical pattern, and part lyrical movement, Gustavo’s sleek ceramic constructions are grounded in principles that relate to the built environment as well as sculpture. Due to their reliance on geometric form, their symmetrical characteristics, and their construction process, Pérez’s forms seem architectural. Perhaps this is not an accident, for Gustavo builds his work as if logic and technology were indispensable to art. He does have a background in mathematics and engineering, which balances his facility with the clay. The progressive principles of cutting into modular units, assembling another form, and integrating the design with the structure are common to architecture and to the work of Gustavo Pérez. He is proudly aware of the built environment of his country and especially aware of contemporary Mexican architects. That’s something that I really hear in our conversations.
When Gustavo discusses his country, he talks about “the many extraordinary contributions that this oppressed, poor, conflictive and many times neglected part of the world has made to universal culture. And I am not only thinking about the extraordinary ancient Pre-Columbian cultural heritage but also about our century with the contributions of writers…or the architecture of Luis Barragan.” While an architect may have other compositional elements at his disposal—such as scale, light and space—there are some similarities. It’s clear that there are affinities in architectural form, as Ignacio Diaz Morales states: “The shape of [Barragan’s] spaces is clear and simple, composed of spontaneous, constructive geometry, an essential condition for all architectural form. Space is manipulated with great agility and always aims to express the identity of the Mexican soul, without using inappropriate exoticisms.”
Without making specific reference to Mayan culture, the works of Gustavo Pérez are in some ways evocative of that Pre-Colombian culture. Perhaps this is an elusive and poetic quality that Gustavo Pérez shares with his fellow Latin American artists, writers and architects. “The ceramic art of the Maya, the Olmec, the Zapotec as well as the Korean, the Chinese, the Islamic or the Greek is our common heritage. We all profit from knowing it and the aesthetics, the sensibility and the techniques this huge legacy transmits,” Pérez has stated. I agree, of course, and Gustavo’s sensibility echoes the respect for history that many artists posess. Knowing the legacy gives them a foundation to build on.
When I was a teenage student, I took a test called the Kuder Interest Inventory. I’m sure it was part of the counseling program for college-bound kids in South Pasadena, where I grew up. I scored in the 98th percentile for architecture, which wasn’t a surprise—then, or now. So, what was the next step? “Find opportunities to develop skills here and ask people what they like about their work,” the counselors told me.
I followed up right away. Fortunately, the architectural offices of Whitney R. Smith were right next to the Junior High School. I boldly called and asked for an appointment. To his credit, Whitney Smith kindly scheduled a time for me (and two like-minded friends) to come to his design studio and office complex. We toured the drafting rooms, saw architectural models, and learned about new building materials—all from one of the most respected architects in the region. The office still stands, a landmark of mid-century modern building design.
But an even greater opportunity awaited me. At South Pasadena High School, I was enrolled in drawing, painting and art history classes with a mentor, Jack Dalton. Once Mr. Dalton learned of my interest in architecture, he arranged for me to go to a small house designed for his colleague, the art historian and critic Constance Perkins. We drove to the San Rafael Hills, and ascended mid-way up Poppy Peak Drive to the Perkins House, designed by Richard Neutra.
I had never seen such a home, and still remember climbing the stairs and entering the small but perfectly composed rooms. Ms. Perkins explained that all of the cabinetry was built for her height and reach, and that Neutra had measured her library of books. These were new concepts for me. For anyone wanting to learn about modern architecture, that day was inspiring—especially to look out from the living area to the San Gabriel mountains, through the famous glass corner, over the fish pond.
I still drive up Poppy Peak, and stop to admire the simplicity and perfection of a small jewel of modern residential architecture. The impression of that day has never diminished, and I’ve toured other Neutra homes when they are open. I often drive by the Research House in the Silverlake area, as well as the other houses on Neutra Place nearby. It’s a constant reminder of the extraordinary legacy of residential design in Los Angeles.
Do you ever wonder who does the graphic design at Frank Lloyd Gallery? The look and feel of the gallery’s publications is a key element in our presentation. Sure, the business of art is image-driven. But the graphic context and typography have always been a primary concern for me. Just as with architecture, the graphic design is a silent aesthetic partner with the art.
That’s why we have, over the years, presented clear and consistent design in all of our publications. It’s the work of Joe Molloy. First and foremost a friend of the gallery, Joe has designed nearly everything for us—our logo, website, announcements and catalogues. At times, he’ll even design an outdoor banner or wall graphics for us. Joe is a highly respected Los Angeles-based graphic designer, typographer, and educator. His company has a cool name: Mondo Typo, Inc.
I like to consider myself to be Joe’s student. After all, he is a professor, and has taught at UCLA, Otis College of Art and Design, California Institute of the Arts, Southern California Institute of Architecture and Loyola Marymount University. I’ve been present for many press checks, and observed the master in action. His classic typography is legendary. Joe is a great collaborator, and prefers to work directly with the artists that we show—often visiting the studio to understand the work—before conceiving of the announcement.
We have some awesome company on Joe’s list of customers. His clients include the Getty Conservation Institute and UCLA. Joe has designed publications for McGraw-Hill, Arts & Architecture Press, Burgess Publishing, Simon and Schuster, Minneola Press, and G.P. Putnam’s Sons. And, just for good measure, he’s a poet and architecture buff. So, whenever you are looking at our website or one of our publications, you’ll see Joe’s sensitivity.
John Mason solo exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1959.
Photo by Robert Bucknam
Kristine McKenna, a Los Angeles based author and curator, will sign copies of her latest book on November 21, 2009. The book signing event will take place at the Frank Lloyd Gallery, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The recently published book, The Ferus Gallery: A Place to Begin, is an illustrated oral history of the Ferus Gallery, a storied enterprise that showcased modern art during the late 1950s and 1960s. Drawing from 62 new interviews and more than 300 photographs (most previously unpublished), the book retrieves a lost chapter of twentieth-century American art. The text is written and edited by Kristine McKenna.
Kristine McKenna is a noted author, art expert and co-editor of the critically acclaimed publication Semina Culture. Kristine has also organized numerous exhibits about American music and art, and has written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, and many other major publications.
In 1950s California, and especially in Los Angeles, there existed few venues for contemporary art. To a whole generation of California artists, this presented a freedom, since the absence of a context for their work meant that they could coin their own, and in uncommonly interesting ways. The careers of Ed Ruscha, Wallace Berman and Ed Kienholz all begin with this absence: Ruscha’s early and iconic Pop images combine words with images, Berman pioneered installation art with his first Ferus show, and in March 1957, Ed Kienholz, in collaboration with curator Walter Hopps, co-founded one of California’s greatest historical galleries, Ferus. Within months of opening, Ferus gallery gained notoriety when the Hollywood vice squad raided Berman’s first–and, in his lifetime, last–solo exhibition, following a complaint about “lewd material.” Shows by Kienholz and Jay DeFeo followed, but 1962 was Ferus’ annus mirabilis, with solo shows by Bruce Conner and Joseph Cornell, and solo shows of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol (his first gallery show ever). The following year, Ferus also hosted Ed Ruscha’s first solo exhibition. After Kienholz and Hopps moved on to other things–Hopps went on to mount the first American Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Musuem–the reins were handed to Irving Blum, who took over and ran the gallery until its closure in 1966.
Former Ferus artists currently exhibiting at the Frank Lloyd Gallery are John Mason, Larry Bell, Ed Moses and Craig Kauffman.