Interviewsand Articles


Editor's Introduction w&c #7 : Approaching LA

by Richard Whittaker, Mar 28, 2016



left: Hood Gallery with painting by Liz Wlld

As part of preparing for this issue, naturally, I had to head south. Over the years I’ve made the trip to LA by car, rail and plane. This time driving, I opted for the efficient route—580 east to 5 south. The morning I left, a strong westerly off the Pacific prevailed, and forty miles east, the Altamont hills were alive with spring grasses and rows of wind turbines at work, the big ones and little ones, all spinning.
     Eight days later, coming back, the winds were blowing again, this time putting the finishing touches on a good drenching that had blown through the southern half of the state—a day of gusty blasts and scattered, bright clouds against a bright blue sky.
     Heading north, climbing out of the San Fernando Valley, up the southern slopes of the Tehachapis, a freeway sign warned, “High Winds—Campers and Trailers Not Recommended.” Along the hills the wind was rippling across the new grass, the light shifting and moving.
     Rolling along, after awhile I found myself imagining that play of light minus the sounds of the big rigs, the whine of tires and the rush of wind pulling across the windshield. That silent play would make a nice opening sequence for a film. For the next twenty miles or so, I wondered where this film might go after such a nice opening. And suddenly I realized that having just spent over a week in LA, I’d fallen under its cinematic influence.
     There were memorable experiences. At one point, I’d gone down to San Diego and on my way back to LA, a spring rain was coming down in earnest—a rare treat in itself for southern Californians. Heading north through the tire spray on the 15, the 405, and then the 110, it occurred to me that a Lucien Freud exhibit was currently at LAMOCA. Why not dive off the freeways and take a chance on getting there without a map?
     Greater LA is something else. It has to be two thousand square miles with something like 88 municipalities merging into one huge megalopolis of over nine million people. A wish to grasp greater LA is to feel one’s limitations. Just to get a working sense of the major streets and freeways is a daunting project, but how to gain a sense of the inner aspect of such a king sprawl? And is there such?
     I did find LAMOCA that day, close by Frank Gehry’s startling titanium creation, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. There was even a single parking space waiting for me, and I was hardly wet as I dashed through the rain toward the first of Lucien Freud’s weighty portraits.
     But if finding the museums and galleries is a beginning in connecting with the life of visual art in LA, it’s only that. To really get anywhere requires, as far as I’m concerned, finding a relationship with some of the people from which LA’s art life flows.

The idea for this issue evolved from my having met James Doolin, whose work appeared in Issue #5 (Nov. 2001). Meeting Jim was one of those strokes of fortune. We formed an immediate bond. After Issue #5 had been published with a portfolio of Doolin’s paintings and a little essay, I went back to LA to interview him. I had no idea what I’d do with the interview, but felt compelled to get a conversation with Jim on tape. No one could have guessed that a few months later he would be dead—a great shock and loss.
     In the short time I knew Doolin, he made it a point to introduce me to two of his closest friends, artists Michael C. McMillen and Carl Cheng. Jim had a deep feeling and respect for both artists and when I met them both, it quickly became obvious they felt the same way about him.
     I’d first seen McMillen’s work in an exhibit at the Oakland Museum years earlier. One piece, Train of Thought, made a particularly deep impression. From that piece alone, I knew this was an artist I wanted to meet. The introduction would have to wait for years—and James Doolin. Then, in one day last year, I met them both.
     Doolin drove me to Cheng’s Santa Monica studio in the morning and the three of us talked. In just a few minutes I knew I wanted to interview Cheng. Later that same day, with an introduction from Doolin, I headed out to meet McMillen at the Armory in Pasadena where he was installing a new piece for a show.          
     McMillen is a charming man whose playful and light manner rests on an acute perceptiveness and intelligence. For me, as editor, finding such people is like finding gold. It’s what the magazine is for, and one of the fundamental rewards in putting each issue together. I wanted to interview them both.
     Arrangements were made and the interviews were done. But it took a while before it occurred to me that I now had the basis for our next issue. “Approaching LA” is a testimonial to James Doolin. It’s also a continuation of a direction he opened for me in relation to the art world in Los Angeles. It’s already made LA a new city for me through the vitality of these new friendships.

Having gotten this far, I wondered what else I might be able to find to round out the issue. Actually, my own connections with Los Angeles go back many years, but they’d grown old and were in the process of disappearing. A couple of years before all this, I’d begun to feel the wish to refresh my LA connections somehow. A subscriber, Gail Cottman, creator of LA’s “Garden of Oz,” an artist in her own right and president of her own media company, had directed me to the remarkable James Hubbell, but he belongs to San Diego. But contributing editor, Kathleen Cramer —actor, playwright and former Angeleno, who now lives, as I do, in the Bay Area—introduced me to Halldor Énard.
     I’d known a little of Halldor’s photography having seen some of his work years earlier in the lobby of The Magic Theater during the run of a play Kathleen was performing in. There was something elusive in his photos that had attracted me and I’d begun to get acquainted with him. So, being in LA, I took the opportunity to pay Énard a visit. It was a treat. He pulled out a pile of prints and, with some difficulty, we narrowed them down to the six that appear here.
     The connection with David Meanix came via the Internet. I’d posted a request for material on an email listserv LAculturenet and had gotten a number of responses. Meanix’s work caught my fancy. I like the two images we feature, particularly as they appear in the context of the phenomenon known all over the world simply as “El Lay.” It has something to do with LA being a world center for image—the power of surfaces—and the notions of identity that accompany that.
     Another find, which came via the Internet, was The Hood Gallery. If one were to make up an LA art gallery that was sociologically poetic, iconic—in relation to the essence of Los Angeles being understood as having no fixed center, but rather being a Los Angeles of the mind—one would invent The Hood Gallery. This is the Los Angeles of automobiles, freeways, palm trees, Hollywood and, of course, Disneyland.
     Our own elegant note of Disneyhood appears in the form of two separate (but Mickey Mouse-related) works, one from Oakland sculptor Gale Wagner, and the other from Hayward artist Christine Petty.
     We’ve also included in this issue—because it’s wonderful, and because it was there—Alleghany Meadows’ Artstream. I ran across it in San Diego, to be exact. But how long will it be before San Diego and Los Angeles are joined into one heegantic, urban, megasprawlopolis?
     Of course, we continue the ongoing saga of Indigo Animal, who just recently has arrived at LSRI, The Lawn Statuary Research Institute.
     I hope issue #7 will bring some of the spirit and substance of all this to our readers. —RW

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.  


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