Author Archives: Amanda Moret

Kimono Dragon | Interview: Fumiko Amano
citizen-la-cover-fumiko-amanoCitizen LA | Citizen LA

Japanese born and Los Angeles based artist Fumiko Amano does not align herself with one art practice, rather her work operates like a palimpsest on a richly graffitied wall.

Amano is not just an artist but a fashion designer, former curator at Pharmaka, and fierce admirer of the composer John Cage. Amano who just returned from her first solo exhibition in Seville, Spain at Murnau Art Gallery personifies an eclectic and International sphere of influence that is deeply palpable in the Los Angeles art scene. Amano who felt as though she needed to “prove herself as a good enough artist abroad” has already sold 70% of her works.

Deeply influenced by the city of Los Angeles, Amano’s canvases reveal a side of LA that remains a mystery to many, especially those who live overseas. I caught up with Amano in her Downtown studio space to discuss her experience on the International circuit and her fascination with Los Angeles.

A. Moret: I’m particularly drawn to the “Downtown Series” because it demonstrates a fascination with urban life, but it doesn’t get caught up in the details of the cityscape. It’s interesting that you don’t really get the sense of sunlight, even though the sun is almost always out. For each series of work are you delegating a particular set of materials?

Fumiko Amano: Not necessarily limiting myself. For the “Downtown Series” for examples I haven’t worked with resin before. I have been using enamel and using graphite and whatever works. So far it’s on canvas, acrylic works best. So whatever works you know?

A. Moret: What was the impetus behind the series?

Fumiko: The “Downtown Series” is something that originally came from the inspiration of Downtown, LA- Fifth and Main Street. It was scary. I had a studio right behind Bert Green Fine Arts- Bert had this tiny 100 square foot space. It was around the time we started the gallery (Pharmaka) so it was 2004. But it was scary. I couldn’t even go in the daytime by myself because there were always really weird people sitting or doing something right in front of the door. It was scary. Every time when I got into the studio and I found peace I could always hear people screaming on the street, police on the street. I just thought ‘those are interesting sounds,’ and I always took on a lot of inspiration from the noise outside.

A. Moret: And that became the urban soundtrack behind the piece?

Fumiko: Yeah. When I started explaining the “Downtown Series” in Spain, I was speaking Spanish. As soon as I started explaining that ‘this is the landscape of LA and that’s the inspiration, and I just got the feeling that I get from Downtown LA,’ and they were like ‘I have to check it out.’ So it was a kind of funny reaction that I got from people but I always have a really happy feeling when I’m in Downtown.’

A. Moret: I notice there are a great deal of Japanese influence in your work- almost like a schism between the LA streets and the rich tradition in Japan.

Fumiko: Maybe it has something to do with how I grew up. When I was a kid I grew up in Tokyo. In terms of composition I take from Kimono fabric because the Japanese Kimono fabric has a sort of flow and I like the fact it has a weight at the bottom and the flurry things going on. It’s very feminine but at the same time it’s kind of a scary look.

A. Moret: The work becomes an infusion of tradition and urban influence. With “Sonic Landscape” you’re using the spray paint and stencil, which is so reflexive of the cityscape, but is also a form inspired by the Kimono.

Fumiko: I remember in the last show at Lawrence Asher Gallery in 2007, I had quite a few pieces that had a lot of stencil and in a way it had an element that looked like graffiti art and traditional art combined. I remember Andy Moses said something like ‘it’s a beautiful graffiti art’ or something. It just kind of really hit me at the time. Like my art is sort of between, not necessarily graffiti art but it has sort of elements of cityscape and landscape at the same time it has traditional elements as well.

A. Moret: I can’t help but wonder if the “Noir Series” was influenced by your time as a film curator showing European films at the Art Share.

Fumiko: I took a lot of inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. It was black and white and at the time I was known as a colorist because I used so much colors but I was always looking for a new medium and new colors. Then one day I was going through Youtube and I happed to find Alphaville. It’s a trailer and it has funny subtitles probably by French people or something, but it was so poetic. It didn’t make sense but it was so poetic so I started taking those images and printing them out and putting them on my panel. Not they images but the words- they’re subtitles that came out as a black screen with words.

A. Moret: One of the first things I noticed when I walked in your studio was this rack of clothes in the corner. Are you still designing?

Fumiko: I left fashion maybe 6 years ago because fashion is like film production. You can create your own things but once you start promoting your work it’s not work, it’s a product so you have to work as a team have to have many other people to work. I tried really hard in fashion because I love fashion so much and I still do, but then I realized I just don’t have enough connections to start, I didn’t have enough passion to create fashion merchandise as much as I do for fine arts.

A. Moret: When did you first see “Water Music?”

Fumiko: Probably 1994, 1995 or something.

A. Moret: Did it inspire a shift in your work?

Fumiko: I never thought of doing Abstract painting. I never thought it was my thing. I started working on more Abstract pieces after I saw “Water Music.”

A. Moret: You have integrated life painting, or performance pieces into your practice. This was a huge part of Cage’s work. His appearance on “I’ve Great a Secret,” in 1960 is spectacular.

Fumiko: I’ve done two Life Paintings in collaboration with improvisation musicians. John Cage is a big inspiration because I didn’t think about visualizing the music until I actually saw “Water Music” and that’s when it kind of hit me.

A. Moret: Are performances paintings contingent on the sound of the music, or the prism through the artist views life at that particular moment?

Fumiko: I’m trying to do something that is not real literal and the audience could take it and there’s a direct communication between the audience and the instrument player. And I think that’s kind of the connection that I’m looking for.

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The Unreal City | Interview: Jay Brockman
citizen-la-cover-jay-brockmanMarianne Williams | Citizen LA

Beneath the humdrum hiccup of her worn city streets, and above hills of fantastical billboards that nearly block any vestige of the sky, Los Angeles speaks. For Jay Brockman, Los Angeles is a subject and a verb as his cityscape paintings reveal his obsession with Sunset Boulevard: a curiosity that sends him driving around Hollywood photographing street scenes from his car. A concrete jungle with no public transportation, LA was designed especially for the motorist. Brockman’s sight seeing expeditions reveal what is most mystifying about LA: for a city built on chance, it’s design is fully realized and made with the intention of being photographed. Whatever message is being uttered beneath our feet, it is the call of the Sirens for Brockman.

The child-like wonderment that consumes him, imparts nostalgia onto his audience. Brockman suggests his work comments on a collective experience about what it means to live in LA. “It’s weird,” he says, “but a picture of LA brings people in LA together.” Hollywood Boulevard, Vine, and Sunset Boulevard are common cityscape subjects, however, it’s not just the nostalgia of work inspired by familiar city streets, rather it is Brockman’s skillful handling of perception and flatness that make his work reflect the way we see LA. From a distance Brockman’s cityscapes appear photo-realistic, almost like a silkscreen rendered from his digital photographs. Upon closer inspection the viewer can identify the hand of the artist through the integrity of the lose brush strokes. Brockman insists on making his work visually compelling by flattening the space, as he explains, “I like the illusion that happens. I see it and I play with that and I definitely like the hand to be a part of my painting because it shows a human being was there. Like the whole painting is my temperament.”

No one walks in LA and appropriately neither does Brockman, who previously lived in NYC. By photographing various parts of the city including Rose and Main, the Capital Records building that spells “Hollywood” in Morse code, and Hollywood Boulevard, Brockman accumulates references for his cityscapes. “I’m my own movie director,” he explains with a grin. Never one to pull over, Brockman points and shoots while driving in traffic. “Other times,” he adds, “I have people drive and I scream Left! Right! Slow down! Go! They’re honking!” Traffic is an integral part of Brockman’s process and also appears in nearly every piece of work. Often times the headlight of a single car twinkles and nearly blinds the viewer, or cars are speeding out of frame and appear as a single streak of black.

Despite the threat of living in perpetual rush hour, Brockman seeks solace following the ebb and flow of Sunset Boulevard, also the name of the 1950 noir classic directed by Billy Wilder. “I didn’t really even get the whole idea of Sunset Boulevard,” he admits. “The sun actually does set. The way the city is set up, there are points in time it’s blinding going down that road, but I don’t know if it was the idea of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard, but for me Sunset is like a river and it starts from one end to other and it meanders.”

The Sunset on Sunset series, of which there are now sixty pieces and counting, is an aesthetic collision between the slick noir sensibility of Edward Hopper and urban reportage chasing sunsets. Brockman’s group show “Context and Construct” opens on March 28 at Lawrence Asher Gallery and marks his return to painting after a two- year hiatus.

The desire to capture a LA sunset requires a keen sense of timing, being at the exact place where one can actually see the sun. Sunsets are a site most often unseen by many Angelinos as they often occur while we’re shuffling from our offices to our cars. Trying to contain a sunset in seems almost impossible. Laughing he retorts, “Yeah, it’s true.” The sun “is a cyclical thing that keeps us in tune. The sunset itself is an indicator; either some people are going to relax or other people are going to work. It’s part of our inner dialogue.”

In his frequent visits to Sunset Boulevard, Brockman recognizes the juxtaposition between the landmarks and the billboards. Places like Carneys, the now vacant Tower Records, the Standard and House of Blues exchange a dialogue because they are landmarks etched into our cultural consciousness. The real conversation exists between the billboards, Brockman explains they “create their own dialogue in itself,” a message that we don’t often acknowledge but has nonetheless overwhelmed the urban landscape.

The cityscapes resist identification with a precise painterly trajectory; they’re neither entirely Impressionist or photographic, nor do they mimic the works of David Hockney and Ed Ruscha. Brockman’s works are as subtle and sophisticated as the city he loves to paint. Although there are many artists living in LA, not all of them chose the city as their subject. Brockman suggests that there never “really was an heir apparent,” someone who could identify with LA. However “all artists in LA, wherever they are and whatever they do, just reflect back and are intense reflectors at times.”

Like many of us, Jay Brockman battles his love/hate relationship with LA as he confesses, “there’s something about it that calls you back.” Perhaps LA is built upon the ephemeral ideals and construction reminds us that the city is as fleeting as we are. LA is quickly disappearing from something real into a space more and more unreal. As T.S. Eliot wrote “you cannot say or guess, you know only a heap of broken images.” Brockman’s cityscapes mend our fragmentary vision of the city into one that is ever more elusive.

The Year Of Creation | Interview: Daniel Peacock
citizen-la-cover-daniel-peacockCitizen LA | Citizen LA

It is altogether possible that Daniel Peacock watched the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States on a 1955 RCA TX 500 model television. A vintage tube that looks as though it broadcast’s live from a fish tank. Or maybe he decided to ditch the murky black and white transmissions of the RCA to watch a live feed from his computer that normally streams old time radio broadcasts that flood his studio. However, the former seems a more romantic and fitting gesture for this writer. The technological anomaly of watching a new President take the oath of office on a television that was first popular when Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t even considered a political relic, reflects Peacock’s own sensitivity of the past and his desire to make time honored images feel new again.

As part of an ensemble of 20 fellow Lowbrow artists, Peacock’s participated in Obama’s Campaign for Change and created works especially for the campaign. A pencil drawing on an 8.5×11 piece of paper depicts an Obama Lincoln hybrid, a mish-mash technique implemented in many of Peacock’s paintings. Lincoln’s tall and skinny top hat cannot conceal Obama’s trademark floppy ears. Abe/Barack’s slender bearded face and parted lips can barely hold a cigarette that bubbles rather than fumes tobacco. When reminiscing about the drawing a smile makes a part in Peacock’s lips as he explains that, “it was Lincoln with the big ears and the cigarette, almost Napoleonic, just sitting there. Very regal, very Lincoln-esque.” Handwritten above the figure reads, “Vote” with the “o” replaced by a heart. While this interview took place, President-Elect Barack Obama rode on the back of a train from Illinois to Washington D.C. just as Abraham Lincoln had done nearly 150 years ago.

His humble abode is a tranquil and isolated guesthouse hidden from the street in a South Pasadena neighborhood that also doubles as his studio. Several paintings from his upcoming show line the windowsill while the rest are discretely filed upright in between a small couch and a cabinet filled with personal treasures. A wall shelf boasting a partially solved Rubik’s cube, the casing of a transistor radio, “Thing 1” from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, a 1920’s Mickey Mouse reissue stuffed animal that sits upright in the corner, a John Lennon “Yellow Submarine” action figure, and a picture with guitar legend Les Paul. The cabinet “supports” Peacock when he paints, as he works with his back against the objects and the incoming light. He looks at the cabinet and reflects that the objects are, “a mish-mash of important things and cherished things.” Peacock pauses and seems to take a mental inventory of each object situated in its exact place. The cabinet houses “photos and knick-knacks,” he explains. But the shelf is really much more than that, “it’s Daniel Peacock’s ‘trifecta of influence.’” The influence of 1930’s Mickey Mouse cartoons are immediately recognized in his canvases as the early Disney cartoons were confined to a linear aesthetic, one that Peacock has embraced. “Oh wow, that’s interesting,” he remarks surprised by the connection between a child hood favorite and his current works.

Peacock’s upcoming show Creation opens on February 6 at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, the brainchild of art collector Billy Shire. Peacock’s first solo show with Shire Everything but the Kitchen Synck was in 2005. Unsure of precisely how many works the show would include Peacock laughs, “I always overshoot or undershoot. Usually, it’s at least a baker’s dozen plus a half-bunch more in there.”

Peacock himself is a character, as illuminating and unpredictable, as the creations in his paintings. When describing his works he creates a dialogue for the narrative, imagining voices for his character’s that range in all registers. The voices illuminate an already quirky and whimsical cast of characters. Peacock’s arsenal of subjects are critters from an alternate dimension, friendly, hybrids, animals of different species co-existing fuzzy-wuzzy forget-me-nots, that are neither here nor there, rather go-betweens of a natural and utterly fantastical world. Peacock’s body of work vividly captures the imaginative spirit of a young boy who embraces the religion of Dr. Seuss. “I’m always going for trickery” he responds with a smile, “or a multi-dimensional thing. It might be a private joke that just never translates, you know? I’ve always thought that the impression of the work is rarely aligned with the intention of it—even people who create things can’t always define the intention.” The playful amalgamation of characters and are harnessed by the viewer’s arsenal of pop culture references like the innocence of early Mickey Mouse cartoons and the zany nature of Dr. Seuss. Regardless of our ability to understand exactly what the characters are meant to reference, they are figments of the artist’s belief. Peacock insists on the power of belief declaring that “When you believe in it, it’s alive somewhere. And if it’s alive in your mind it’s alive.”

Enlivening the past and re-imagining it in the present is a notion reflected in Peacock’s desire to paint on yellowed pages of nickel and dime books purchased from the library and old newspapers. One of his favorite papers from 1935 is framed and doubles as a table for a vintage typewriter and the RCA set. We read the text together, upside down because the glass is too heavy to move. “Look at that. This is from 1935!” he exclaims with a high- pitched inflection, similar to the tone he uses to animate the characters from his canvases. As his eyes scan the paper, the barrier of time and space disappear for Peacock and he begins to see similarities between 1935 and 2009. “There’s such an essence of stuff we hear about being so urgent and special but this stuff goes on forever, you know what I mean?” In Daniel Peacock’s studio, the past is never really past; it’s just on hold and waits patiently to be re-activated.

2009 is the year of something new. Dubbed the year of “Creation” the ritual of naming each year is a way for Peacock to chronicle his own artistic evolution. Sitting outside on his patio as the afternoon sun slowly slips away, Peacock looks around with a sense of contentment. “I made this happen because I believed it, and it happened. And I thought this is the beginning of belief.”

In Search of Paradise Lost | Interview: Lisa Adams
citizen-la-cover-lisa-adamsCitizen LA | Citizen LA

The Santa Fe Art Colony lies buried beneath a layer of concrete. Just like Pompeii lived in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, the colony is eclipsed by a cement factory that force-feeds soot into the air. The quarry yard of the factory is out of sight and out of mind thanks to a chain-linked fence separating the world of harmful commerce from a peaceful artist commune.

The colony, flanked by burgundy bungalows and lined with potted plants and flowers, is what Tyler Durden’s house could have looked like on Paper Street if he and his posse from Project Mayhem had done a little yard work. A Proustian conundrum exists here, searching for lost time in the face of a paradise that is rapidly decaying.

Lisa Adams, a resident of Santa Fe, leads us into her shared studio space where industrial strength poster board, held together by clear packing tape, divides the room. She wears Levi jeans with paint so deeply embedded in the memory of the cotton fibers that no rinse cycle will ever clean them. Some of the works for her January upcoming show The Future of Paradise Past at the Lawrence Asher Gallery hang on the wall of her studio, waiting for their final inspection.

Adams explains that the narrative of her show is, “almost nether-world Ground Zero, less than an Edenic kind of world. So it’s sort of almost like,” she pauses and adds, “apocalyptic might be a little too extreme but it’s twisted enough so you can kind of get that life persists, the life is driven to persist but it somehow is thwarted.” Los Angeles, especially the Santa Fe art colony is an urban anomaly that rectifies Adam’s theme of nature competing with industry. The graffiti aesthetics adopted for We Destroyed the Things We Loved, suggests the destruction happens inside the studio and outside on the streets.

We Destroyed the Things We Loved presents the duality of aesthetics encountered when viewing industry versus nature. The painting depicts an electric blue iceberg, partially fractured, floating in crisp Arctic water. A web of vines arcs over the ice and conceals the tip of the iceberg. Large bubble letters outlined with black spray paint interrupt the natural movement of the iceberg and make it a static image hidden behind graffiti. The lettering looked familiar to me because a roach coach turned in front of me the same day I received a copy of the painting. The graffiti style, similar to the lettering on the truck, reflected an air of authentic LA – one that showcases Adams’ deep connection to the fabric of the city in which she has spent her entire artistic career.

In discussing the aforementioned painting Adams reveals that, “on a lot of those roach coaches…you’ve got this what I would call kinda high amateur level painting and then you’ve got this tag on it and it’s sort of awesome…” As Adams reminiscences about spray painting over the iceberg, she continues, “I was so fucked up trying to put the tagging on it.” While she speaks to me she paints in mid-air, her right hand coils as if it was holding a paintbrush as she transforms dead space into a canvas.

Adams’ The Future of Paradise Past insists that nature is ever looming. The city is a palimpsest; years of tagging and decay conceal a narrative driven by the notion that urbanity is most unexpected. Just like a flower growing up from the concrete depths of a splintered sidewalk, or the vines you often encounter when passing beneath a freeway, what we uncover are artifacts of a natural history. Adams describes this as the, “combative idea between the nature that wants to kind of take over.” The painted vines arching around the iceberg in, We Destroyed the Things We Loved, reflect Adams’ fascination with something growing from nothing. They remind her of “vines just dangling down into mid-air, [that] you don’t even know how they got there.”

Working in near isolation, Lisa Adams constructs pseudo-utopian paintings while concrete swallows the world beyond her wall of windows. Despite this resentment of her urban environment, Adams is thankful for places like the Santa Fe Art Colony, a true example of a flower rising up from the depths of an urban jungle. “I’m not rich,” she explains, but “the art world in some way has provided me a way to experience and to express what I think are the two things that are most important to me.” 28 years of working in LA as a painter, teacher, curator, and public artist inextricably binds Lisa Adams to the urban tapestry of a city where something always seems to grow from nothing.

A. Moret is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work expresses concern for art criticism, theory, history and institutional critique.