Culver City

A Form of Currency: UCLA Graduate Open Studios

dscn1970-e1276139717586It’s all too easy—especially in a city permeated by the entertainment industry and material gain in general—to forget that there are still many artists out there committing their lives to their craft without the slightest hope of a monetary reward, and that there are a vast amount of studios in operation that have absolutely nothing to do with film or television. In fact, at the UCLA Graduate Open Studios in Culver City this past Saturday, I found that there were at least 30 dedicated artists at work who were not only putting their pieces up without price tags, they were most likely taking out student loans to do it.

This is not to say these young practitioners were exercising pure artistic selflessness; the hope, I gathered, as I traversed through the maze of sectioned-off galleries amidst packs of the hippest and most attractive art crowd I’ve seen in some time, was that people would notice the stand-out work, that they would pay attention (as opposed to money).

And attention can be a form of currency in itself. My colleague Helen, who I attended the event with discovered this fact in the most literal sense. We were vocally admiring the work of Max Rain (a stand-out artist, for sure)—in particular, a photograph of his that shows a piled arrangement of 20 or more dead and deformed rodents he collected as an employee of an animal shelter, the result of which amounts to a kind of macabre yet beautiful collage—when Max himself approached in the most amiable, non-egotistical manner possible in that situation. Helen told Max that if she had money, she would put the piece above her bed, to which he replied, “Really? If you promise to put it above your bed, I’ll give you a print for free.” He wasn’t lying. The mere idea of someone posting his work in their bedroom was, to him, compensation in itself.

I did, however, get a hint from another one of the artists, Sarah Dougherty—an incredibly talented painter who pieces together large LA-set landscapes with found objects, tapestry, and other pop-up book-esque features—as to who the real target audience might be. “We had our professor critiques this week,” she sighed in exasperation to me, going on to explain how most of the reviews were positive, but one in particular had her completely devastated.

Being in the “real world,” or at least the world outside of collegiate critique, it may seem difficult to relate to Sarah’s (or even Max’s) point of view. Who cares what a professor thinks? They’re not making any money either. But when you think about it, our art world—at least the part of it I’m interested in—is not so different from that Culver City rat maze I danced around on Saturday night, snatching up complimentary cheese and wine where I could find it. All artists, for the most part, are not looking to feed their wallets or even their ego. That’s not why they spend hours upon hours, day after day, inside tiny white rooms, experimenting with pigments or tweaking the electrical feeds on video installations. Why do they do it then? The truth is I don’t know. I’m tempted to say sex, but it probably has more to do with communication, putting something out there that’s you, says you—and how can something not be you when you spend that much time and energy on it?—then having someone else come up, take a look, and say, you know, I’d like to post you above my bed. Maybe it does have to do with sex.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Instant LA Summer

Bizarro-PicassoI met artist, curator, and all-around art enthusiast Esteban Schimpf when he came out to the FineArtsLA: Panel of the Muses event we hosted back in June. He was there to support his friend, panelist, and co-board member of the Chinatown gallery, Actual Size LA, Lee Rachel Foley. Schimpf made himself known as the first—and most voluable—volunteer of the after-panel Q&A session. His passion for supporting art and artists was intense, genuine, and immediately recognizable (he railed against the idea that the physical limitations of Los Angeles—traffic, isolation, etc.—should in any way prevent an artist from doing their job). Following the discussion, he was quick to introduce himself, revealing a chummier, more casual side of his personality, yet still brimming with that same passion.

On Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM, Esteban opens his (to my knowledge) first personal exhibition in Los Angeles at the Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, and not surprisingly, his own work is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Schimpf, with the help of Stefan Simchowitz, has chosen to spotlight the work of fifteen other young, up-and-coming artists in an ambitious group show he has titled “Instant LA Summer.” Upon names only, I was admittedly unfamiliar with the artists on view, but after some instant LA research, the show looks to be extremely diverse in mediums and theme, but cohesive in pure enthusiasm. Essentially, it’s Esteban without Esteban. Here’s a quick, flip-through preview of what’s in store, but don’t hold me to it:

Los Super Elegantes: this musical duo, one male and one female, present three of their own videos, which are as much a part of their overall presentation as are their costumes, their on-stage theatrics, their public demeanor, sexual chemistry, and of course, their music—a Latino-influenced type of pop that owes a lot to show-tunes. Their videos, too, remind me of low-rent movie musical numbers (in one, a romantic, garbage-man Romeo belts out his love to a passing, balcony-perched Juliet).

Eric Yhanker: his piece, “Bizarro Picasso,” is a charcoal and graphite depiction of an old, wide-eyed bald man who looks kind of like the titular painter, but, in its tactility, more like something Jan Svankmajer would mold from clay. Photographic in its Chuck Close detail and sense of perception, the close-up portrait briskly departs from realism with its over-sized, features, namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—the portals to our senses.

Josh Mannis: works in a variety of mediums, but his series of HD videos are the most striking. Like Yhanker, they concentrate on the frozen exaggeration of facial features, but in the style of a Japanese advertisement. Bright pastel colors, fleshy and freaky masks, limited body movement, and intense repetition characterize such works as “If You Don’t Know Anything, You Don’t Know This.”

Charles Irvin: a multi-instrumentalist as they say in the music world. He draws, paints, performs, makes videos, and simply exists. His works tends to be cartoonish, extremely colorful, and detailed, but in a soft way. It’s dream-like, psychedelic, and in-your-face. No subtleties here, save the man behind the man.

Kenneth Tam: another video-maker, but of the Dadaist ilk. His mundane, often single shot slices of life tend to take place in one setting, have a documentary feel to them, and are so direct and normal that they border the line on the absurd.

Maya Lujan: to look at pictures of her large-form, graphic patterns—architectural in nature—one would be quite surprised to hear that her installation in a 2008 UCLA exhibition was taken down due to the fact it included a simplified mandala that bore striking similarity to a swastika. In actuality, the piece was more akin to a kind of apocalyptic spacecraft, and it’s this exact questioning of shapes and patterns that shows up in most of her work.

Sarah Sieradzki: speaking of the architectural, her work presents mashups of varying shapes, materials, and textures—wooden frames, cement blocks, photographs—that look like models for massive monuments of future post-modernism (whatever that is). She seems to take joy in chaotic geometry, as well as the re-contextualizion of basic structures.

Pascual Sisto: also a multi-platform artist, he appears to specialize in playing with and subverting the viewer’s expectation. Much of his work starts off as a seemingly one-note image/idea—cursive neon lettering, a single-shot video of a motionless fruit tree—but will then either climax unexpectedly in a sudden spasm of movement (as with the fruit tree video) or double-back on its initial meaning (as with the phrase in neon: “Let us be Cruel”).

Daniel Desure: in his prints and photographs, there’s a cold, stillness that tends to break down time into single moments, whether its a car crash refracted into centrifugal prisms, or a can of paint in the midst of spilling. Desure seems to distill catastrophic moments into the way we often remember catastrophic moments: as single images.

Emily Mast: time is of the essence to this choreographic artist as well. She sets up complex, theatrical installations utilizing actors, props, lights, and costumes, which collide into a kind of Beckett-ian sense of nihilism. But within these dramatic interpretations is a clear sense of narrative, which is inherently married to time, and thereby, meaning.

Emily Steinfeld: a sort of found object artist who seems to enjoy the accidental/purposeful layering of solid things—how one thing can mold into another as if a chemical compound. Her series of structures entitled “Covert Cells” utilizes sheeting to cover objects like wine bottles and telephones so that they may be confused for a single entity.

Simon Haas: mainly primitive, muted browns and melancholy. As the title of his piece “A Brief Moment After a Bath” suggests, he finds subtle beauty in the skipped-over moments of life. The lead surface and the wide, gestural brush strokes of this oil painting have a wavy, watery feel to them. Like waking up from a dream and dealing with its immediate aftermath.

Mark Hagen: intricate, graphic designs made for specific technological uses. He designed a 360 wrap, for instance, to be hypothetically used on the antiquated bowling shoe so as to maximize arch support for the bowler. As a child, he helped his father part out and restore Post-War Studebakers, and he seems to have been elaborating on this work ever since.

Sean Kennedy: also works in design, but in a much more tactile sense. He builds layers of both abstract designs and found objects to create geometric patterns that are simple at first glance, yet wildly complex upon inspection.

Orlando Tirado: exotic, striking photographs and/or collages of imagery. The title of his piece, “ShamanColash or Land, Sea, and Air (Self Portrait)” speaks to the bizarre juxtapositions framed in the would-be tired genre of self-portraitry. To borrow a reaction once used to describe the first artist on this list (Los Super Elegantes), Tirado “[makes] the audience nervous. Nobody does that anymore.”

-By Joshua Morrison

Stefan Simchowitz presents “Instant LA Summer,” an exhibition by Esteban Schimpf, runs until September 10, 2010 at the Carmichael Gallery. The opening is  on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM. For more information, please visit, or call 323.939.0600.


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Moving Images

TheSecondsPass_WrongWayRyderEver wonder what happened to Ed Templeton?  That professional skateboarder turned internationally renowned artist, photographer, D.I.Y. innovator, entrepreneur, ‘Beautiful Loser,’ and book publisher?  Well if you haven’t, then Ed Templeton has.

His eclectic career as both a skater and an artist has always seemed to be about his own relationship to time and motion.  In his famous photography book, Teenage Smokers, for instance, each medium to close-up image of a young person with a cigarette has the feeling of personal impermanence, like a flash-memory of a kid you might have seen at the mall once when you were nine.

Templeton, especially in his most recent work, seems to be obsessed with these fragile, ephemeral moments, and what they might mean.  His 2008 book, Deformer, which took him 11 years to complete, examines his youth growing up in the ultra-conservative suburban “incubator” of Orange County, using childhood letters, notes, photographs, sketches, and paintings to tell his story with as much physical accuracy as possible—even if it’s all long gone.

His latest photography show, The Seconds Pass, at the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City once again has Templeton on the move.  These thirty-some separate collages of pictures, mostly all taken from the vantage point of a moving vehicle, attempt to capture exactly where he’s been these last few years, so as not to miss a passing second.

Ed Templeton’s The Seconds Pass can be viewed at the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City until April 3.  Roberts and Tilton is located at 5801 Washinton Blvd.  For more information, please call (323) 549-0223, or visit

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Don’t Call Them The Fashion Police…

Kimberly Brooks had a great idea recently.  The local, Venice-based painter decided to look into the art that plays a role in our everyday lives and the people holding the cards behind it.  She looked beyond museum shows, beyond advertisements, and into the world of fashion that is so often considered less of an art form and more of a necessity.  The men and women working behind the scenes to make our world a touch more glamorous are artists who recognize that the necessity of fashion can be one of the more creative enterprises in our lives and it can be one that makes (or doesn’t make) the right impression.

In her latest series of paintings, called “The Stylist Project”, Kimberly Brooks scoured the world of stylists, costume designers, and Creative Directors to delve deeper into the minds of who exactly is dressing our most photographed celebrities and our most watched characters in TV and film.  She painted Vogue’s Creative Director Grace Coddington and Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant in their most comfortable settings (albeit in their most fabulous clothes).  She painted Elizabeth Stewart, a stylist for the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar, with a gorgeous and colorful palette and she captured the nervy and frazzled essence that is Rachel Zoe.

We got a chance to sit down with Brooks to discuss just what went into “The Stylist Project” and the upcoming show at Taylor de Cordoba gallery in Culver City.  We learned very quickly that stylist is a pretty loose term to us amateurs, but in the business, a stylist can be anyone who fashions a photo shoot (often-times called a Creative Director) to someone who styles a celebrity for a red carpet event.  Brooks’ colors and masterful way with a paintbrush allows us into this inner sanctum of fashion via the world of art – it’s almost as if we know them just by looking at these paintings.

Check out our video interview and go say hi to your new friends (the stylists, of course) at the opening reception at Taylor de Cordoba gallery on Saturday evening (February 27).  The show runs through April 3, 2010.  For more information, please click here or call (310) 559-9156.

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Indie Dreams at LeBasse Projects

We all dream in our own style – some of us have dreams of grandiose places, some have anxiety dreams about some upcoming event, and the lucky ones have kinky dreams.  It often takes more than just looking at someone to work out what their dreams might look like.  But, and I’m really generalizing here, I have a feeling that the two artists currently on view at LeBasse Projects in Culver City have got the wonderfully indie dreams of film favorites like, say, Ellen Page or Michael Cera down.

On one hand, Scott Belcastro’s exhibit, called “Chasing the Last Glimpse of Light,” is full of paintings (somewhat big, acrylic paintings) that show a sort of Where The Wild Things Are existence with fuzzy mountains, a red menacing sky, and a lone reindeer beneath the stars.  He has a simplistic painting style with colors that are more muted than vibrant – the paintings are ultimately a delicate view of the wild and twisted world we live in.

Then, there’s Linda Kim and her exhibit, “A Light Within.”  The two painters easily complement each other – her style has a similarly minimalist, yet dreamlike quality with animals making their way through the mist or sleeping beneath an intensely blue sky.  The immediate difference between those two is actually their use of color.  Where Kim employs color blocking techniques and a more diverse and concentrated use of hues, Belcastro seems to want you to wander through his world with a more fragile touch.  Kim also presents her work on little wood “houses” – which really make you wish you could crawl inside and lay down.  You’d probably have some pretty crazy dreams in there.

Scott Belcastro and Linda Kim’s works will be on display at LeBasse Projects through January 2010.  For more information, please call (310) 558-0200 or click here.

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Don’t Call It a Renaissance… Quite Yet

slide1In the midst of galleries closing and various art programs being cut (that is, except for the film program at LACMA – victory!), Los Angeles has against all odds been able to support its growing, newly thriving art scene through some trial and error, a lot of financial support, and even more elbow grease.  Pre-recession, many of our institutions and artists were beginning to make their way in the world of art that has long left Los Angeles on the back burner.  Not to make it sound that we’re a world apart, although it may be wise to start requiring passports to get in and out of this crazy city – but until recently we were one of the only major, metropolitan cities, for example, without its own ballet company.  As we all know, the city and its talents have attracted some very well known names that have done much to make our presence known around the world.  Without beating a dead horse, Placido Domingo at LA Opera, both Esa Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel at the LA Philharmonic, the Annenbergs for photography, and the Broads for theatre and contemporary art have all made strides on behalf of the City of Angels that have not only secured us a spot on the map, but have tried to make sure that our spot accurately reflects our city.

Regardless of our “earthquakes, riots, fires” and that pesky recession, Los Angeles has stepped up to the plate and maintained its stance on art as a worthy, necessary part of our cultural fabric.  On LACMA’s campus, for example, we’re getting a new building in 2010 donated by Lynda and Stewart Resnick.  Designed by master architect Renzo Piano and currently under construction, the building is adjacent to the Broad Contemporary and will look out onto the planned Jeff Koons piece Train – a seventy-foot replica of a 1940s train car.  It’s not a stretch to imagine that what Frank Gehry did for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, so Renzo Piano will do for LACMA once again. 

Our surviving and championing ballet company, Los Angeles Ballet, is headed by Co-Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, the latter of whom is a member of the George Balanchine Trust – a group of dancers with exclusive permission to stage Balanchine’s works.  It’s an opportunity to perform pieces that no previous incarnation of an LA-based ballet company has been afforded.  So far they’ve successfully staged Serenade and Rubies among others and will continue with See the Music, Hear the Dance in February 2010. 

Eli and Edythe Broad continue to change and illuminate LA’s artistic landscape by announcing plans to build a contemporary art museum in Beverly Hills.  The decision came when the Broads decided last year to keep their illustrious collection rather than donate it to MOCA – the new museum will house said collection.  Not to mention, they saved the day for MOCA last winter.

Even as galleries are closing and museums are going bankrupt, LA has seen the expansion of a number of spaces including Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, Blum & Poe, Roberts & Tilton, and Cherry and Martin in Culver City.  Our little nook of a neighborhood, Culver City, has become the nexus for the international art world right before our eyes. January will see the start of the Grant for New Projects, which will be born from Sandroni.Rey, a contemporary art gallery also in Culver City.  The new organization will support and raise funds for curators as well as emerging local artists. It comes at a time when not-for-profits are closing, California’s budget is a hot mess (and not in a good way), and arts and music programs are being cut from schools across the country.  Is there a more vital time to not only recognize, but also support the burgeoning arts scene in this city?  How do I love thee?  Let me list the ways…

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Fly India With Carlos Ramos

There are some adults that harbor a very thorough Disney movie collection with no shame and out in the open for all to see.  They still cry in Bambi, applaud Mulan, and fantasize about being whisked away on a magic carpet ride with Aladdin.  Others are a little more subtle about their love of animated creatures and tend to look for the Disney satisfaction in other arenas – thank God for Wall-E and Up or we’d be fuzzy-animal starved!

Carlos Ramos may be our latest artistic (and adult-proof) source of colorful, rich, animated satisfaction. His new show India at Corey Helford Gallery is full of bright, wild paintings of characters and creatures any Disney-phile would appreciate.  It’s almost as if you can close your eyes and imagine the flamboyant voice-overs.  There are some paintings with a blue, meaningful tone and others with a red, adventurous theme that together allow you to create your own narrative.  He sets the stage with paintings like Shahjahanabad and introduces characters like the wily temptress in Raqs Baladi or the King atop his elephant in The Coronation of Edward VII.

The show ends September 2 though, so I’d head to Culver City pretty soon.  You may want to scope out a Blockbuster (for your Aladdin fix), an Indian restaurant nearby (to satiate your taste and aural senses), and a jewelry shop to pick up some bangles or even a bindi – you can keep them with your top secret Disney collection.

Carlos Ramos’ India is at Corey Helford Gallery and closes September 2, 2009.  For more information, please call (310) 287-2340 or click here.

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