From the Desert to the Sea
November 22, 2014 - January 11, 2015
J. Bennett Fitts
Atrium 1st & 2nd Floors
Jewel Box Gallery
Wells Fargo Gallery
Being Here and There Curated by Sant Khalsa
Being Here and There features photographic works by twenty-six artists whose imagery derives from their individual and contemplative experience of place. Situated among an array of topographies and ecosystems from the desert to the sea, each of their creative works provides us with a unique view and perspective of a spectacular landscape, unlike any other. These artists are contemporary surveyors, seeking to depict and give meaning to this place where we live.
For many artists, “place” profoundly influences their ideas, process and production and this is certainly reflected in these artists’ work. Their vision is diverse and vast like the landscape and people of Southern California, which is characterized by populated urban clusters and suburban sprawl, congested freeways, crowded workplaces, malls and amusement parks in contrast to the seemingly infinite ocean, towering mountains, expansive deserts, immense blue skies and quiet solitude. We live in a delightful climate where outdoor living is taken for granted yet we are troubled by earthquakes, droughts, fires and floods. The destiny we have manifested in the American West—and more specifically in Southern California—is riddled with contradictions and complexities. We awake each morning feeling fortunate to live in paradise. Yet, as our day unfolds, we are reminded of the actions of history and scars left on the land.
Each artist’s work in the exhibition is distinct in its concept, content and approach, providing us with an opportunity to view and gain understanding of the significance of the everyday – that which is extraordinary within one’s experience as well as the ordinary and often overlooked. The subjects of these photographs vary greatly with certain artists compelled to address our human impact on the natural world and ecological issues including water use and scarcity, air quality, land development and the detritus of our consumer culture, while others focus on visual aesthetics, the beauty of light and color and the sometimes harmonious juxtapositions of nature and the built environment.
For several artists the experience of time—capturing the illusive fleeting moment or extending it—is paramount to their artistic concerns. Artworks that recall histories and memories along with premonitions of the future suggest that we ponder our human acts and inaction on the land and in our communities. Demarcation and the creation of ambiguous boundaries are also explored as we traverse through contested terrains. While most of the artists choose to leave the sites of their photographs untouched, there are a few who alter the scene or intervene in distinct ways or even place themselves within the image. Additionally, artists who have altered and added to the surface of the photograph, by cutting, scratching and sewing to further define their ideas, subject and character of their work are included to demonstrate the breadth of approaches among artists working today. Finally, images are flawlessly composited to present astonishing detail and expansive spaces while other works are produced with multiple photographs assembled together to replicate the artist’s visual and perceptual experience of time and space.
These photographic works developed from each artist’s creative impulse to visually articulate and convey their independent vision of our remarkable Southern California landscape. Clearly evident is their expertise as perceptive observers and visual poets who savor and artfully capture the experience of being present in this place we call home.
- Sant Khalsa
Sant Khalsa: Paving Paradise
I often refer to the Santa Ana River as “my river.” Never intending “my” to allude to ownership or control but rather an intimate relationship one develops over time with a lover or a dear old friend. The Santa Ana River serves as a source of vital sustenance for my body, mind and creative spirit. The river is the life source that nourishes the earth and every living cell in the community where I reside. The river has taught me the critical interdependence between humans and the natural world and inspires me to make art that reflects on my life experience and relationship with place.
I have been photographing the 96-mile-long Santa Ana River and its expansive watershed for nearly three decades. My work is intended to create a contemplative space where one can sense the subtle and profound connections between themselves, the natural world and our constructed settings. My often disquieting photographs address complex environmental and societal issues and reflect upon my various ideas concerning my/our relationship with the river -- as place of community, economic resource, recreational site, natural habitat, sanctuary and both source of life and destruction.
Paving Paradise refers to the current state of the river and the conflicting terrain of natural riverbeds and dams, flood plains and tract home communities, riparian wetlands and concrete channels. I was first drawn to the Santa Ana because of its natural beauty—the vast open landscape, the starkness of its often-dry riverbeds and the power of its occasional rushing waters. The river remains a source of creative inspiration as I continue to depict the critical role it plays within the region, my home since 1975.
Carol Sears: Linescapes
Los Angeles-based artist Carol Sears was born in Sydney, Australia in 1942. In the early 1960s she studied at Sydney’s prestigious Julian Ashton Studio. Sears moved to San Diego in 1965 where she was employed in the newly established art department of the University of California San Diego. There she came into contact with experimental artists such as John Baldessari, Miriam Schapiro, Harold Cohen and Newton & Helen Harrison. Since 1972, when she moved to Los Angeles, Sears studied life drawing at UCLA and sculpture at the Claire Hanzakas studio while exhibiting and pursuing independent studio work of her own.
Sears classical art education in Australia and her training in more modern idioms in California all translate into highly expressive artworks overlaid with the influence of such modern masters as Matisse, Picasso and de Kooning. She painted a diverse array of subject matter: from portraits and figures to studio and plein-air landscapes, floral and wildlife subjects and whatever else she thought others would fancy. Sears notes “it was a burden to be able to work in whatever style or medium I wanted and sought to redefine my path based on my early years as a young artist who first appeared at the Julian Ashton School of Art in Sydney, innocent, idealistic and free of any baggage.”
MOAH is pleased to present this new body of work, where Sears strives to retain the treasures of a long, full, creative life accumulated through decades of experience, but to use them with the clarity of the young mind. It is a balance she seeks; to be centered but spontaneous; to welcome “accidents” and to be intuitive, in touch with the unconscious and the natural self; to relish discovery. Linescapes is a visual record of this new beginning. The exhibition encompasses all that she has done, seen and wanted to do throughout her artistic career but could never give herself permission before this moment. Sears is not alone in this struggle. By telling her story and painting her paintings, Sears gives permission to artists who may be resisting finding their own voices in an art market driven by commercialism rather than innovation. Sears’ abstractions depict her personal vocabulary, an independent voice of remarkable light, scale, color and texture coming through the spirit of intuition and walking into her own light.
Sears explains a deep feeling of belonging when she is painting in her studio, “I feel whole when I am in my studio with my canvases and drawing pads, interpolating and translating the memories and impressions of my native Australia. The symbols and metaphors in my art reflect the qualities of texture, light and color particular to the immense Australian landscape and seascape. To these influences I’ve added my appreciation of other landscapes and the aesthetics and values of other cultures garnered from my world travels.”
Sears is represented by Coagula Curatorial in Chinatown, Los Angeles and has enjoyed solo shows at Lawrence Fine Art - East Hampton, New York and group shows at Andrew Shire Gallery, Los Angeles CA, TAG (The Artists Gallery) Santa Monica, CA and UCLA Art Department. Sears continues to live and work in Los Angeles.
Hollis Cooper: In Flux
The work of Los Angeles-based artist Hollis Cooper straddles the line between site-specific installation, drawing and painting. Cooper’s practice engages perceptual, painterly and physical space in ways influenced by concepts of virtual reality and the Baroque, where multiple spatial models that have been folded and spliced into one another coexist in harmony. Into these hyperspaces, Cooper re-introduces elements of Baroque excess and theatricality, such as intense color and visual cues that break the two-dimensional plane. Cooper’s approach towards creating painterly space is intimately connected with the viewer's ability to activate that space, which includes not only the flat surfaces of the painted elements, but the entire architectural space in which the installation resides. The viewer is encouraged to interact in unconventional ways; movement, changes in distance and shifts in sight-line are rewarded. In a manner reminiscent of Baroque illusionism, multiple privileged viewing spots are created where the work settles into predetermined perceptual configurations. These paintings do not sit still; instead, they exist within a responsive matrix that rejects a traditional, more fixed engagement with the idea of the painted object.
Cooper’s current practice is grounded in tenets of Supermodernism; specifically, ideas of "non-place." Her source material comes from digital drawings of theoretical architecture: 3D chatroom renderings, video game environments and physical "non-places" such as airports and train stations. Rather than looking at "non-places" as transitory spaces lacking content or meaning, she regards them as loci of infinite possibility.
Through the digitization process, Cooper detaches these source drawings from a fixed state and focuses on their mutability and evolution. She considers these drawings to be a language in and of themselves, a foundational element used universally throughout her work and she exploits the flexibility of their original vector format to make them function at extreme scales and in multiple media. Like expansive landscapes, the installations perform at the largest scale, yet assembled modularly in situ, they respond to the interior architectural environment in which they exist, activating the space in a way that negates the "non-place-ness" of the museum's white walls, even if only for the length of the exhibition. The animations, in their constant state of flux, references the transitory nature of the original sources and operate on the viewer in a decidedly different manner, as they become worlds unto themselves, pulling the viewer out of the moment, for a moment.
Throughout her work is a sense of fracturing, motion and reformation in the way the installations are layered and painted, as well as in the controlled chaos of the animation. This cycle also occurs in the studio, as she remixes iterations of form as each piece is constructed. Thus, these works that began as a cataloging of non-place are imparted meaning through the rhythmic (re)inscription of their own history. For all aspects of the work, whether physical or virtual, there is a sense of responsiveness, of negotiation, of push-and-pull. Cooper intends for these works to have both a machine and human aesthetic, becoming a cyborg creation of sorts that is not just a formal exploration of spatial concepts, but the organic progeny of them – an evolution of form, responding to the computer, her self and her surroundings.
Kim Abeles: Shared Skies
The work of Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Kim Abeles includes many genres and involves specialists in diverse fields of study and community groups of all ages. She works on projects worldwide and maintains an open mind to multiple modes of visual art. Abeles focuses on subjects including the urban environment, feminism, aging, HIV/AIDS, labor, mental health and collective memory.
Through the years, Abeles has acquired a uniquely broad skill-set for art making. Technically, she creates through an unlimited range of materials and conceptually, the development of her work heightened her interest in community, public venues and art’s relevance for society. In 2012, her journals, artists books and process-related objects were archived at the internationally renowned Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. The preparation of these materials gave her a fresh perspective on the relationship between the biographical and environmental themes in her work. As her work progressed, the inter-relationship between art and community has become seamless. Abeles notes “Art that provides a viewer with meaningful portrayals of nature and society is in service to re-engage a person with the physical world; this is where positive change has a possibility to take place. If one does not love the world, that same person will not imagine a need to protect it.”
In the Shared Skies series, Abeles invites people from all walks of life, all over the world to submit a photograph of the sky in their part of the world. Abeles selects from the submittals and creates the horizontal slivers of sky as a kind of archive of the atmosphere and the element we all share: the air. Shared Skies speaks to the connections between global, local and personal. As people look toward the sky each morning, through the day or each night, the sky speaks to their personal and local concerns. In a global sense, we observe the effects of our environmental decisions and could find community through a seamless sky. From the Salt Flats of Bolivia to Grand Forks in the United States and Maasai Mara, Kenya to Pine Ridge, Oglala Sioux Tribe, our skies portray the connected parts of our place on this earth.
The sky photographs for the project were collected through Kim Abeles’ journeys; from artists who participated as they travelled; and international friends through social media. Each sky is identified with the specific location and the name of the person who took the photograph. The sky photographs represent countries from the Arctic to Antarctica and all the continents.
The project was originally commissioned by the YMCA, in association with the former Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, California for a public artwork. Suspended sculptures with the skies are permanently installed in the lobby and entrance to the new Anderson-Munger Family YMCA in Koreatown. The art literally describes the global nature of the YMCA and the connections of people worldwide by having at its core, imagery of skies found around the globe. The exhibition of prints was displayed at the gallery of the National Center for Atmospheric Research located at the I.M. Pei building in Boulder, Colorado during Spring 2014.
Abeles created 60 Days of Los Angeles Sky Patch (View to the East) by building a simple contraption for viewing a section of sky through a small opening. Each day, for sixty days, she made a painting to match the sky color of this spot of sky looking from downtown Los Angeles toward Riverside, California. The sixty paintings are the result of that process and a curiosity about sky blue.
Among her many honors, Abeles has been a recipient of the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts, California Community Foundation, Pollack-Krasner Foundation and the California Arts Council. She is a 2014/15 Lucas Visual Arts Fellow at the Montalvo Arts Center. She has created artwork in conjunction with a unique range of collaborators such as the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, California Science Center, Department of Mental Health and natural history museums in California, Colorado and Florida. In 1987, she innovated a method to create images from the smog in the air, and Smog Collectors brought her work to national and international attention. She has exhibited in 20+ countries, including large-scale installations in Vietnam, Thailand, Czech Republic, England, China and South Korea. Kim Abeles: Encyclopedia Persona A-Z toured the United States and throughout South America sponsored by the United States Information Agency. She has an MFA in Studio Art from the University of California Irvine and a BFA in Painting from Ohio University.
Q & A with Julius Eastman: State of Wonder
Q: What is your background?
As a self-taught artist, art has always been an escape for me, something that takes you away. It has been a part of me ever since I can remember. As a kid growing up in the high desert I spent a lot of time outdoors. The desert was a place where my friends and I could go and dig subterranean hang outs, sculpt elaborate bike tracks; essentially do anything we wanted. Lancaster wasn’t always a place where a teen could really do much, especially for me, since I was on the seedier edge of town; the desert was what there was. I have spent my whole life in the desert and it still fascinates me.
Q: What are you currently working on?
For this exhibition I am working on new landscapes with acrylics on canvas and Bristol. One in particular shows the influence that Los Angeles, graffiti art and urban art have had on my work; it also depicts the water crisis that we as a region are facing. In addition, I am collaborating with a writer on a set of abstract images. The idea is to have each of the paintings paired with text to create a more specific narrative. I am also working on a decent sized installation project; another collaborative effort that is going to be a combination of re-purposed furniture cut into pieces, tiny figures and scaled down objects in a series of tiny rooms depicting life in the desert with people and animals.
Q: What sources do you use for creating your pieces?
Most of the imagery in my pieces—and in numerous cases—comes from my collective memory of an area that I am trying to recreate as opposed to using stock photography. Since I mainly paint from mental pictures and memory, I try to be in those elements as often as I can. Though I admit I do use some reference, I collect photos more for the memory than for later use. I study things and do sketches and drawings of things that I see in nature, I really enjoy creating an impression of those things. I watched this video of flowers going into bloom in accelerated time and they looked like fireworks bursting in air to me. I wanted to capture that and it caused me to look at plants and paint them in different ways. Memory is biased and it imbues everything with a saturating layer of feelings that cannot easily be separated from an image generated from memory and by hand. When a person does something by hand it is automatically subject to the same fragility and flaws that people have; it’s innately human. A photo can capture a moment or show us points of view that most might have missed and it takes a certain mind to do that too but creating that image by hand is an entirely different journey. From my point of view technology, as valuable a tool as it has become, is also taking something from us. It’s like we are, consciously or not, using technology as a tool to eliminate ourselves from any and every aspect of everyday life, even art.
Q: What themes are you pursuing in your work?
As a landscape painter, the high deserts of the western region have greatly impacted my work. There are strange microclimates and harsh conditions here that produce plants that have incredible character compared to plants that have grown in more stable conditions. We have harsh winds, extreme temperatures and droughts; couple that with the occasional El Niño and you have organisms that have been shaped by an unpredictable environment, organisms that have been through something and look like it. I have been to almost every state park in California and all of the major National parks in the region and there is no other biome that provides more interest in my opinion. At a glance the desert appears to be little more than a few sage bushes or Joshua trees and not much else, yet it has one of the greatest densities of life of any biome. Nothing is wasted or taken for granted and that is the lesson humanity can learn. As we move towards technology and away from instinct we are losing our spiritual connection to the land. Every tiny thing is part of an infinitely elaborate web of life that is delicately balanced. How a persons life can be affected by something as insignificant to us as an ant can seem impossible and yet everyday science vindicates this as we discover just how interconnected we are and how much we rely on the land as well as its creatures; one form of life relies on another and so on. Every living thing eventually links back to us, not to mention we make the largest impact of any creature and are among the most numerous.
Q: How do these themes show up in your work?
How can they not? As much as I try to have a solid idea of what I want to do as a piece, in the end when I wake up and pull back the curtains and it’s threatening to rain, it’s going into the piece. It’s an instant reaction. The weather in the AV has a certain melancholy luster to it that has always appealed to me so I paint it trying to convey that feeling. You know the feeling of being in the desert and needing the rain so bad you could cry when it does, or how the wind can blow every direction at once here somehow? We always seem to get the edge of all of the weather patterns around us, but never the full hit. Combine these elements with my fascination of the underground LA art scene, or at least it was still underground at the time, and you get these impressions of an area with hints of LA. My first exposure to “LA” art was through graffiti art, I remember going to Hollywood to see Melrose Ave. I was with some friends and we had gone down an alley right off Melrose and I saw forms of expression that were not “taught” in art classes or discussed in the art books I had seen. I was blown away. It was not limited to the back alleys either, there was art everywhere; some of it was commissioned in stores and on store fronts, and some of it was done in guerilla fashion: meaning It was stenciled onto the sidewalks, it was slapped onto every available surface with stickers or glued as small posters and even though it was thousands of different people, there was a common thread that made it urban that I can’t really describe except to say, that when you saw it you knew it was uniquely urban. Now of course, these things have made their way into mainstream society, I mean you can see graffiti style art on a Mountain Dew can or in a kids show, it’s everywhere. It’s not underground anymore, but the same mentality that spawned the guerilla art is the same movement that continues to push every envelope from the alleys to a gallery wall.
Q: What are your goals as an artist?
To be able to continue to paint and show work as often as I can. I think that I am not unlike any artist in the sense that I would love for art to be something that supports me and I plan to take this as far as I can in that regard. On a more personal level, I want to hone an ability to express something that passes from me to someone else and I don't want it to be shock value; I want it to be obvious and fragile like people are. I want to make landscape paintings that capture the feeling of an area as well as mirror the unique beauty that so many areas in our region have. I want people to be able to smell the dank desert air when they look at one of my works. I want art to remain something that captivates me.
Jill Sykes: Yucca Forest
Jill Sykes focuses on the silhouetted shapes of plants and the negative spaces between the branches and leaves. Based on this work, a few years ago she was commissioned to design an overall “pattern” of sycamore leaf shadows that were sandblasted onto the outside walls of a new home – Sycamore House – under construction in Pacific Palisades; the MOAH yucca trees follow a similar design concept. For the “Jewel Box” windows she decided to focus specifically on indigenous plants of the Mojave Desert. Driving back and forth on the highways between Los Angeles and Lancaster the tall and stately yuccas are everywhere. Beginning with some spontaneous iPhone photography, Sykes amassed dozens of images of the trees. This photographic research became the basis for drawings which ultimately were translated into 18 approximately 10’ high tree silhouettes cut out of white vinyl and adhered onto the inside of the “Jewel Box” windows. Clustered together on the glass the artist envisioned a “Yucca Forest,” with huge, lacey white blossoms in various stages of development floating in air above and beyond the blooming yuccas. She was also fascinated by the tall, burnt-out skeletal trees – beautiful, gnarly sentinels showing age and decay in the desert. The contrast was sensuous and dramatic. Looking close-up inside the museum, the viewer will be able to see the abstracted and amorphic shapes that ultimately form the individual trees; seen from a distance on the street below, the silhouetted yuccas will overlap each other and create more visual depth, ever changing depending upon where one stands.
Sykes is drawn to the negative spaces of branches and leaves; the elegance and energy of natural forms and the visual dialog between figuration and abstraction. The random patterning of incumbent shadows and inherent contrasts affords an expressionistic push-pull, creating a lyrical flow in the shapes that spin a web across a sensuous, translucent surface. Ultimately what Sykes has come to realize about her work is that it is a search for a kind of serenity - a safe place. Rene Magritte once said, “I am painting a place where I want to be.”
Jill Sykes was born and raised in Los Angeles and completed her formal art training at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Academy of Art/Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. She worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in the fields of film and business advertising, animation and educational media, as well as designing and implementing countless corporate logos. Over time her work became focused on painting and in the late 1990's she enrolled at the Santa Monica School of Design, Art & Architecture. This led to her current work in oils, printmaking and now vinyl - all explorations of color, shape, movement and mood.
Kelly Berg: Dangerous Transcendence
In Dangerous Transcendence, artist Kelly Berg’s paintings ride the jagged edge between beauty and destruction. Through the use of acrylic paint, Berg creates textured gestural surfaces with accents of delicate enameled line work. The paintings invite the viewer into mysterious cataclysmic scenes in local and faraway landscapes. The local landscape is seen in Berg’s Vasquez Inferno, a panorama of wildfire engulfing Vasquez Rocks. Located just down the highway from Lancaster’s Museum of Art and History, this iconic geologic formation was made famous by its history of bandits and the imagination of Sci-fi Hollywood. Similarly, in El Diablo de Los Angeles, the viewer is looking through a window framed in thick black acrylic and pointing toward the glowing burning hills east of Los Angeles. This is a scene from the summer of 2009 when Berg moved west from Minnesota to her new home in Echo Park. She recalls walking out into the street at night and looking into the distance at the mountains behind Glendale “burning like the fires of hell.” Other paintings suggest distant places: volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, abstracted lightning scenes and fissures caused by earthquakes. Whether depicting near or far off landscapes, each painting presents the viewer with a personalized view that almost tricks one into thinking the disasters are a bit friendlier than in reality.
Berg’s intent is to introduce audiences to a current global theme through an autobiographical point of view. The iridescent and metallic acrylics specific to these works give a jewel-like quality to dangerous phenomena, while the thick, sculpted black paint suggests the aftermath. Berg’s connection to extreme weather began in her native Minnesota. At age 12 she experienced a near miss with a tornado. The artist cites this experience and other close encounters as a major influence on the new direction in her work.
In addition to reflecting on her personal familiarity with natural phenomena, Berg’s suite of paintings connects to the sublime. Defined as a sensation triggered by the perception of extreme expansiveness in nature, the sublime often refers to experiencing transcendent scenes and moments in the landscape where the awe and wonder of nature dwarfs one’s own self image. The psychological effects of experiencing the sublime are described as simultaneous feelings of fear and attraction for the danger and greatness of the natural world. Foreboding storm clouds, erupting volcanoes and overwhelming vistas have been a subject matter for artists working with the concept of the sublime throughout art history, as seen in the works of J.M.W. Turner, (1775 – 1851), Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) and others of the Hudson River School. Berg draws from this legacy while bringing her work into the now through her monochrome color palettes, deeply textured canvases and autobiographical narratives.
Kelly Berg was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1986. Her family moved to Wayzata, Minnesota in 1989 where she grew up drawing and painting from an early age. As a young student, Berg was inspired by her travels to the National Parks and frequent visits to the Walker Art Center and The Minneapolis Institute of Art. Berg received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 2008. As a Los Angeles-based artist since 2009, Berg has enjoyed two solo exhibitions at Frank Pictures Gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica. Bergs’s work was recently featured in two museum exhibitions “Art for Art's Sake: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation” at The Barrick Museum (Las Vegas, NV), and “California Art: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation” at the Carnegie Art Museum (Oxnard, CA). Berg was one of eight Los Angeles artists selected by the Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 to participate in the Simply Perfect Art Project, an artist residency at the iconic Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in 2011. Berg is published in Whitehot Magazine, OC Weekly, and featured in the Figure/Ground Artist interview series and the arts issue of the Venice Argonaut Newspaper. Berg is collected by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation and is in numerous private collections.