The British Invasion at MOAH
By Genie Davis
“The Brits are Coming” at the cutting edge Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH), is another encompassing, fascinating exhibition that makes a day trip mandatory for Los Angeles art viewers.
The exhibition which just closed on January 22nd included the work of several artists who were a part of the original British invasion of the 1960s, when the Beatles stormed the Ed Sullivan Show, and British style was an intrinsic element in the counterculture revolution. Also a part of the exhibition: an extensive group of emerging and newly established British artists whose work is inspired by California. In all, 25 British-born artists are featured here, all of whom came to California and let the place spiritually infuse their work just as the Brits infused America with the spirit of music, art, and revolution in the 60s.
Among the most well-known British artists featured is David Hockney, whose work is so quintessentially Californian that it is difficult to establish a dividing line between what was inspired by this sense of place and what came from his own sensibility. Hockney’s vibrantly colored “112 LA Visitors,” is a color laser print depicting a variety of people against a rich, abstract background whose colors and shapes evoke a Southern California sunset translated into abstract expression. Hockney is immersed in the California lifestyle, splitting his time between Malibu and London. Considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, it is the work he created in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s that is his most iconic. This work features swimming pools and collages such as “Pearblossom Highway” which depicts Highway 138 at the edge of the Antelope Valley; a territory familiar to So Cal drivers and coincidentally close to MOAH itself.
David Smith’s “Foothill Cowboy” gives a hyper realistic depiction of a surreal scene – a cowboy hat hovers over an RV fronted by a small stack of striped polo shirts. Suspended nearby are giant forks and chopsticks serving up bites of California’s melting-pot cuisine: spaghetti, tacos, fries, and a tempura covered nugget. The background; a stylized house, hedge, lawn, and beyond that the blue foothills, provides the perfect setting for these decidedly not true-to-size objects. It is perhaps no surprise that Smith has worked in the television industry painting backdrops and billboards. His over-sized, photo-realistic, neo-pop style is a fusion of this type of commercial work with something far more subversive and fascinating.
Jeremy Kidd gives us an installation that also includes stylized gardening images such as a series of carefully pruned trees pictured here. Vivid blue hats and blobs emerge from the work and land on the floor. Talk about an invasion. Kidd’s artwork is a compacted version of multiple photographs that draw the viewer to look, look, and look again.
Max Presneill creates bold, bright abstracts, colors and shapes that defy category and powerfully pull the viewer into an alternative visual universe. Presneill, an accomplished curator as well as an artist, views his work as his legacy, and uses it to address existential questions including those of mortality. The rich palette he employs seems to have absorbed and redefined the colors of Southern California sunsets and movie posters.
Phillip Vaughan’s “Symmetry 2″ features a cluster of neon straws that look like fragments of a rainbow. He has described his work as having an inherent mystery to it; this piece has a mysterious dream-like quality with sun bleached pastels mingling with more intense neon shades in a clustered pattern of pick-up sticks.
More obviously British is the stylized Union Jack in the center of Jon Measures’ installation “It Is What It Is.” Jon Measures is well known for mixed media paintings; the works on display here are a significant departure from the artist’s previous work, a weaving of fragments that represent the city of Los Angeles itself.
In all, the artists exhibiting include: Andrew Hall, Caroline PM Jones, Colin Gray, David Eddington, David Hockney, Dave Smith, Derek Boshier, Eleanor Wood, Gordon Senior, Graham Moore, James Scott, Jane Callister, Jeremy Kidd, Jon Measures, Kate Savage, Max Presneill, Nathaniel Mellors, Philip Argent, Philip Vaughan, Rhea O’Neill, Roni Stretch, Sarah Danays, Shiva Aliabadi, Siobhan McClure, and Trevor Norris.
What is most compelling about this exhibition is the sense of an outside artist’s eye being trained on and absorbing California culture, color, and design. The precisely observed result is something both intrinsically SoCal and something haunting; the reflective quality of each piece, their original take on the visually familiar, will both fascinate and resonate.