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 fasted 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 the dancing spring grass and rows of wind turbines at work, 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 this play of light across the grass minus the sound of big rigs, the whine of tires and the rush of wind pulling across the windshield. That silent play of light would make a nice opening sequence for a film. For the next 20 miles or so, I wondered where this film might go after such a nice opening. It seemed that, having just spent over a week in LA, I’d fallen under its cinematic influence.
     There were memorable experiences to be sure. At one point, I’d gone down to San Diego to check out the NCECA conference that was taking place and while driving back to LA, ran into a spring rain that 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 freeway and take a chance on getting there without a map? (this was before iPhones)
     Greater LA is huge, with something like 88 municipalities merging into one megalopolis of over nine million people. A wish to grasp greater LA is to feel one’s limitations. I did find LAMOCA that day, close by Frank Gehry’s startling titanium concert hall. There was even a parking space waiting for me, close enough so I hardly got wet as I hustled to take a look at Freud’s weighty portraits.
     But if finding museums and galleries is a beginning for connecting with the life of visual art in LA, it’s only that. To really get somewhere requires relationships with some of the people from which LA’s art life flows.

The idea for this issue evolved from meeting James Doolin, whose work appeared in Issue #5 (Nov. 2001). Meeting Doolin was one of those strokes of fortune. We felt an immediate bond. When I went back to LA to interview him a year later, I had no idea what I’d do with it—and no one could have guessed that a few months later he would be dead.
     In the short time I knew Jim, he made it a point to introduce me to two of his closest friends, artists Michael C. McMillen and Carl Cheng. Doolin had a deep feeling and respect for both and when I met them, it quickly became obvious the feeling was mutual.
     I’d first seen McMillen’s work in an exhibit at the Oakland Museum years earlier. His piece, Train of Thought, had made a particularly deep impression. Based on that alone, I knew he was an artist I wanted to meet. The introduction would have to wait for years. Then, on one day, 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 also wanted to interview Cheng. That afternoon, with Doolin's blessing, I headed out to meet McMillen. He was at the Armory in Pasadena installing a new piece for a show.          
     McMillen is a charmer whose playful manner rests on an acute perceptiveness and intelligence. Meeting such individuals is one of the fundamental rewards in putting each issue together. After I'd interviewed them, it still took a while before I realized I 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, which has a new vitality for me thanks to new friendships.
     At that point, I wondered what else I might be able to find to round out the issue. My own connections with Los Angeles go back decades, but they’d grown old and were disappearing. A couple of years before all this, 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 Hubbell belongs to San Diego. Then contributing editor, Kathleen Cramer, a former Angeleno, introduced me to Halldor Énard.
     I’d known a little of Enard's photography when I first saw a few prints in the lobby of the Magic Theater in San Francisco. This  was during the run of a play Kathleen was performing in. Something elusive about his work had attracted me. 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 thanks to one of those random explorations. The two images we feature seem apt in the context of "El Lay's" role as a world center for images—the power of surfaces—and the notions of identity that accompany that.
     Another find, which also came via the Internet, is The Hood Gallery. If one were to imagine an art gallery that captures the essence of Los Angeles—a place having no fixed center, a concept—it could be this one. The Hood Gallery travels the freeways, rolls past palm trees, through Hollywood and of course, it can go to Disneyland as well.
     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. True, I ran across it in San Diego, but how long will it be before San Diego and Los Angeles are joined into one heegantic 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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