Meet six extraordinary fine artists putting Los Angeles front and center in the contemporary art scene.
- Written byMelinda O’brien
Evolving at a steady pace, the current art scene of Los Angeles—invigorated by a talented strain of artists who continue to test the boundaries of the creative realm through a variety of mediums and unique perspectives—offers art lovers the opportunity to collect beautiful, unusual and thought-provoking works that contribute to a more meaningful experience of life as a whole.
And while there is a plethora of quality art being produced in our vast metropolis, getting acquainted with the specific types of work that resonate with one’s personal taste can be challenging. We put the spotlight on six local artists who are proving to be innovative forces on the city’s art front. Perhaps some of their creative expressions will strike a chord. Take some time to view, explore. Your soul will thank you later.
Above: Sarah in her studio. Right: California (2013). Below right: hey babe take a walk on the wild side LAND headquarters installation (2014).
Sarah Cain creates everything from small objects to giant room-size works on-site. Her creative process is similar to that of jazz, poetry or stand-up comedy, whereby she allows herself to absorb the energy of her environment before improvising and throwing something exciting back at her audience.
She shares, “I never plan. It’s basically an attack-and-resolve method. I tend to work on 20 or so pieces at a time and build toward exhibitions. Usually I will have the title of the show—which represents a loose theme—in mind and a few ideas of new challenges that I want to accomplish with the work.”
When you view any of Sarah’s on-site works, you can feel the heightened state of present tense and risk behind them. Their force is palpable, and as Sarah surmises, “Their energy is hard to contain, and it hits the viewer in a very accessible way.” This accessibility is certainly part of what draws people into the artist’s work.
In the latter part of 2014, Sarah made a permanent exterior painting entitled hey babe take a walk on the wild side on the headquarters building of Los Angeles Nomadic Division, a nonprofit organization committed to curating site-specific public art exhibitions in Los Angeles and beyond. The execution of the project required Sarah to work in a fully exposed area, right on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles. A mecca of wild activity, the location is filled with a constant frenetic energy.
“You never know what’s going to happen there,” Sarah admits. “I was definitely outside of my comfort zone while making the work, but overall the experience was pretty amazing. So many people outside of the art realm—a lot of people living on the fringes—thanked me for adding beauty to the world.”
Above: Ry at work on a new sculpture. Below: Second to None (2011).
Ry Rocklen creates works that examine the ubiquitous and familiar objects of our everyday existence. He is especially attracted to things—like a chair or a piece of clothing—that have a strong relationship to the body.
Ry explains, “My sculptures often subvert the viewers’ expectations of objects through a transformation of materiality and surface.” Is it any wonder that Ry believes his biggest responsibility as an artist is to create art that inspires people to see things in a new way?
Each sculpture Ry creates comes together in a unique manner. Sometimes he finds something on the street and takes it back to the studio to figure out how he can turn it into a sculpture. Other times he knows what he is looking for, gets it and begins to alter it.
Some of Ry’s works are porcelain molds of pieces of his own clothing. Things that start out as unremarkable items—a wrinkled, folded T-shirt or a scrunched-up pair of socks—take on new life when placed within the structure of a porcelain cast that somehow imposes a new level of importance upon them.
Second to None is a sculpture that debuted in 2011 and is undeniably Ry. Composed of 200 or so trophies the artist found in thrift stores throughout Los Angeles, the piece embodies several staples of Ry’s work: It is made of found objects, it is both funny and sad, and people can relate to it quite easily.
Clockwise from above left: Matthew surrounded by some of his work, installation view of Velvet and Bubble Wrap at M+B, Los Angeles, From Dust series, gum bichromate print with dust swept from Cushman & Wakefield front lobby (2014), Rainbow Lake WY G1 (2013).
As Matthew Brandt prefers to not be associated with—and thus perhaps limited by—a specific genre, he shares that he “works with photography to make things.” This somewhat vague explanation of his art form leaves things wide open, possibly just the way Matthew likes it.
Each individual art project he takes on starts with a material, an event or a photograph that he has. He considers this initial object to be a seed or kernel—one that hopefully grows into something that serves as an interesting interpretation of something else.
“The brewing stage is the most important part of making a work,” Matthew says. During this stage “there is a lot of experimenting and playing that goes into tinkering something into a work of art,” he adds.
Some of Matthew’s works circumstantially touch on issues like droughts, industrialized foods and dying bees, but “these are just elements the works encounter in their making, and thus are just part of the projects’ compositions as a whole,” according to the artist.
Matthew explains, “Actually there is no specific point that I try to bring to an audience through my work. And I think the fact that there is no bold hypothesis or agenda to any one of my works makes it possible for a viewer to relate more objectively to the work.”
When viewing Matthew’s Rainbow Lake WY G1 (2013)—a grid of 12 chromogenic prints soaked in Rainbow Lake water—it seems that the artist has catapulted the art of photography into some sort of psychedelic realm marked by intensified colors and misshapen elements. One might think the work is a compilation of disfigured views captured through a wonky kaleidoscope.
A symmetry that could define the image is replaced with an imperfect yet perfectly beautiful combination of shapes that come together to tell a vivid story. The best part is that the viewer gets to decide the meaning of the tale.
Above left: Algo 10 (2014). Above right: Channing and his materials at the studio.
Having grown up in a family of artists, Channing Hansen had already been making performance art and sculpture for many years when he took up knitting as a way to keep his restless hands busy while he was away from the studio. The more he knitted, the more he saw the pastime’s potential as a medium for art.
Along with the craft relating so naturally to drawing and kinetic sculpture, Channing began to recognize how it also connected to his interest in the history of science and technology. Channing’s knitted works have been referred to as “paintoids” and “quantum pataphysics.” No matter the moniker attached to them, the artist’s creations seem to exist in multiple dimensions, exuding an energy that makes them come alive on the canvas.
Channing explains, “I use algorithms as a tool in my art to generate not just the colors but also the materials, textures and patterns of the knitted works, as well as to determine the interplay of those elements. Based on a finite set of variables, the algorithm determines how the textures and patterns increase and decrease in relation to each other.”
His practice is quite labor-intensive, as it starts with raw wool, which he occasionally shears himself. He continues, “The wool is skirted, washed, dyed, blended, spun and then knitted according to the algorithm. Once the knitted texture is finished, the work is further composed by how it’s stretched over a wooden frame.”
Now, for those viewers not well acquainted with mathematical algorithms or the skill of knitting, all of these explanations may be a bit cumbersome. Luckily whether an onlooker comprehends the science behind the art or not, he can still be impacted by the unique way that the beautiful colors and textures of the knitted surfaces inhabit Channing’s canvases—which sometimes have strings of wool hanging off them in a way that suggests the creations are still seeking some type of final resolution.
For instance, take Channing’s 2014 knitted work entitled Algo 10. What is most certainly an execution of Channing’s understanding of how art and technology work in unison, this piece—from the perspective of a viewer—may simply be seen as a collection of vivid patterns colliding on a canvas. In the end, both interpretations are valid, as the work is so satisfying to admire no matter how it is perceived.
Clockwise from above left: Ramiro and some of his cardboard cutouts, Nick’s Pool Being Cleaned (2014)—based on David Hockney’s Portrait of Nick Wilder (1966), Beverly Hills Housekeeper (2014).
While employed as a live-in nanny in Beverly Hills, artist Ramiro Gomez began to record the contrasting scenes he came across while on the job. His recordings eventually displayed themselves in painted canvases depicting immigrant domestic workers—gardeners, housekeepers and nannies, for example—juxtaposed against opulent environs.
Ramiro refers to these works as “observations of labor.” While the paintings showcase the artist’s obvious understanding of the union among shapes, space and perspective, they also seem to succeed at providing a permanent visual study of a segment of the population that may otherwise never find its way into the history books.
With his nannying days now behind him, Ramiro—a full-time artist—goes for walks and drives around his own West Hollywood neighborhood, randomly encountering familiar scenes of domestic workers among affluent backdrops. Upon spotting a person and an accompanying setting that interests him, Ramiro snaps a quick, concealed photo of the unsuspecting model with his phone. Later back at his art studio, the picture serves as reference for the painting he will eventually execute.
To gain valuable insight into how Ramiro’s photos inform his work, check out the artist’s Instagram feed: @ramirogomezjr. Doing so may allow you to more readily understand how he composed his work entitled Nick’s Pool Being Cleaned.
In this piece, the artist reproduced David Hockney’s well-known Portrait of Nick Wilder (1966) but interrupted the composition by replacing the title subject with his pool cleaner. This interruption reinterprets the original scene, allowing viewers to see a part of the story that isn’t revealed in Hockney’s version. This is part of the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Above left: Kim at rest. Above right: Installation shots of her series Magazine Paintings, from Made in LA 2014 at the Hammer Museum.
Kim Fisher is a Los Angeles-based artist who primarily executes projects—many of them about the City of Angels—with paint. She finds inspiration in surface as a sociological obsession. And as an extension, she is also fascinated by the literal surfaces and textures of the city in which she works.
“The physical appearance, cultural history and the sometimes extremely oppressive climate of Los Angeles are mirrored in the paintings I make,” she explains.
Kim also finds a great deal of inspiration in fashion and music, to the point that she does a lot of brainstorming when she is listening to music while driving. She will take the thoughts from a brainstorming session back to her studio and begin making several collages out of small clippings from newspapers or magazine pages.
“The quality of the original scraps and the subsequent paintings made from them reflect the effect the Los Angeles sun and heat have over time on materials. The constant sunshine and warmth deteriorate much of the city’s surfaces, revealing states of impermanence and dissolution,” Kim explains. In the end, her paintings are interpretations of the initial collages she creates.
In her work Magazine Paintings—Water, Kim illustrates the influence that light can have on a surface. In this case, the light is being absorbed by and reflected off the water, moving across it with a liveliness that somehow makes the frozen image feel as though it is in motion. Perhaps this energy is the work’s spirit, demanding to be acknowledged in its fight against the elements.