NextGen LA – Durden & Ray Passes the Art Torch
Durden And Ray, Los Angeles
Written By Genie Davis
There is nothing more generous or more profound established artists can do for emerging artists than to exhibit their work. Durden & Ray collective members have done just that with NextGenLA which held its reception on July 31st, introducing 13 new artists to the DTLA art scene.
Curated by Alexandra Wiesenfeld, Hagop Najarian, and Curtis Stage, and welcoming artists who were in many cases students of the teaching artists and curators, the exhibition is a vibrant mix of color, flair, and medium. Exhibiting artists include Justin Ayala, Clarisse Abelarde, Maryam Aziz, Anna Bayla, Gwenyth Bulawsky, Melissa Depaz, Bridget de Lee, Elijah Gaines, Edson Gersain Martinez, Christal Perez, Drew Pilot, Danny Ramirez, and Juan Carlos Velasquez.
The excitement of the art itself – and the artists – was palpable at the reception, and that energy can still be felt by viewers enjoying the show on their own. The gallery describes the artists as “deeply rooted in the fabric of their respective communities,” and certainly this is one potent take-away from NextGen LA. The subjects, the styles, and the palettes all represent something: multi-culturalism and cultural identity, race, location, gender. Perhaps even more intrinsic to the exhibition is a sense of exploration, of the ability to manifest something that each artist feels entirely passionate about.
The freshness and vibrant focus of the exhibition – which is well-curated despite the disparate variety of the different works, is undeniable. And each piece jumps with a kind of personal desire for expression. They are sometimes physically tactile pieces and at other times emotionally tactile, but always engaging and deeply expressive – one might use the expression “soul-filled.” A lot of hope and spirit went into these works.
While each is worthy of mention, among my favorites are Melissa Depaz’s coolly angular, graphic-style realism, which engages the viewer with a sense of immediacy. The artist says “When I begin to make work it’s usually with the intention to express how I’m feeling at the moment. I don’t necessarily think of a specific image, instead I draw multiple things and move them around in the composition until I feel it feels right.” Expression through color imagery is another part of Depaz’s painting style, and she says she uses a “nostalgic” approach. The interesting thing about this self-assessment is how very current and modern the works feel, while also stylistically evoking a 70s-era aesthetic.
One of the most texturally, visually, and spiritually interesting works in the exhibition for me was Elijah Gaines’ “Here, Lost and Should’ve Been.” The large-scale wall sculpture is a mixed media monument to a color palette based in browns and blacks, mournful and joyful at the same time. He describes his motivation to “generate art …to honor my family…to come up with various platforms critiquing the many nuanced versions of white supremacy/racism.” The profound ache of that acknowledgement infuses the work with power, which fits with the artist’s additional comment that “the art serves as an alarm (akoben) and a reminder (sankofa) to get ready,” a warning and a blessing.
Graceful and impressionistic, Clarisse Abelarde’s paintings are expressive of today’s world yet also timeless. There is a kind of mystical and remote quality to them, which fits with the artist’s desire to explore “concepts of detachment, uncertainty and doubt. It is in our human nature to desire to belong and be accepted in society and by doing so, we lose ourselves to conform to an ideal way of life.” Crafting her own stretcher bars, she stretches her canvasses herself, on which the works exude a kind of ephemeral quality, both in and not quite of this world and this reality. “The work depicts daily life in quarantine, finding balance while adapting to our own homes,” she says.
Working in oils, along with a variety of other mediums from acrylic to charcoal, Danny Ramirez uses a lush, dark palette which emphasizes the peaceful and elegiac quality of the artist’s figurative work. His sleeping or resting faces are the faces of real people deserving real rest and the time to experience the balm of dreams. There is a rich and rewarding insight in these works. Exploring both identity and self, the artist creates visually hypnotic images that draw the viewer into the lives he represents.
Anna Bayla’s exuberant black and white images, and the innovative sculptural work of Christal Perez were also exciting. Fine work all around by each of the artists, and by the curators who put this often-galvanizing exhibition together.