Generations at the Brand Library & Art Center

Constance Mallinson, Generations, Brand Library & Art Center Gallery, Photo Credit Lorraine Heitzman.

And the Beat Goes On

Brand Library & art Center, glendale
Through September 2, 2022

Written by By Lorraine Heitzman
While the definition of abstraction may change with each generation, it is no longer defined by a small homogeneous group of artists. Our understanding of the genre has expanded because of the work by artists who came before us, and by the diversity of work by those who are working today. Generations, the ambitious survey show at the Brand Library & Art Center Gallery, is the story of this continuum across four generations in Los Angeles. As curated by Alain Rogier, Laddie John Dill, and Katie Kirk, the artists are classified as belonging to either the Silent Generation, the Boomers, the Millennials or Gen X. The designation of artists quickly becomes immaterial, however, as the curators are primarily concerned with amplifying visual similarities between the artworks and presenting an inclusive show. Because they neither define the different eras, nor present work in a chronological order, it is left to the viewer to determine and appreciate the impact of each generation.

Taste Maker by Charles Arnoldi is emblematic of the concept that holds Generations together and is featured prominently. Arnoldi’s expressionistic underpainting has the rugged brushwork of a Franz Kline painting beneath a geometric framework, melding different styles in a way that suggests a digital sensibility. The image holds vestigial references to early twentieth century abstract experimentations from the Bauhaus to Cubism, but it also reflects a Photoshop aesthetic with its layered textures and shapes, an apt point of departure for this generational show.

The first artwork that you see in the gallery is a stunning painting by Hans Burkhardt. War is dark and emotional, conveying the angst and horror of war in a way that owes a lot to the Abstract Expressionists with whom he was aligned with in New York before moving to Los Angeles. The anguish is palpable and wrenching. As a powerful political statement, and as a painting that is masterfully conceived and executed, it lends gravitas to the endeavor, and there is nothing else quite like it in the show. Nevertheless, connections may be drawn between War and at least two other works. The influence of the Abstract Expressionists can be felt in Iva Gueorguieva’s painted and cut canvas positioned nearby. The Maker is more joyful than Burkhardt’s painting, but Gueorguieva’s exuberant composition captures a moment of chaos in a way that is equally emotional. Chimera, a small oil painting by Fatemeh Burnes, does allude to destructive forces, but in a more oblique manner than War. Using a palette that contradicts the maelstrom, Burnes’ application of paint is as aggressive as her pastel colors are innocent. 

Several other recurring themes can be traced throughout Generations. Some artists work with the fundamentals of abstraction, the stripped-down explorations of non-representational shapes, forms and color. Artists like Nick Aguayo, who uses simple geometric shapes and bold colors to activate his compositions, and Rema Ghuloum, who builds up layers of luminescent colors for a sensual experience, are both excellent examples of contemporary artists who are attracted to a classism that predates them. Laddie John Dill, whose early work was part of the pioneering Light and Space Movement, shows a neon sculpture from 1968 that demonstrates his contribution to abstraction, and how he helped expand the definition with this austere and simple gambit.

Others, like Tomory Dodge, take a more hybrid approach that is neither purely non-representational, nor completely decorative. He integrates myriad patterns with a collage sensibility finding a structure that balances the ornamental and painterly elements. Studying Dodge’s Unexplainable Cat, early cubist paintings come to mind, along with the attention to surface that was popularized by the Pattern and Decoration movement. Dodge pays a debt to these earlier artists, yet his style is his own, bringing a childlike quality to his mark-making within complex arrangements.

Sometimes the installation emphasizes categories by arranging them into clusters, as in the case of the representational-leaning work. Paintings that have a degree of realism, such as Constance Mallinson’s Ventura Avenue Boogie Woogie, and Lisa Adams’ Sundown, are grouped closely together, along with Fiona Hilton’s moody landscapes. Mallinson, in reference to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, documents and organizes the detritus of her neighborhood into a flat grid, finding rhythms in the contrasting shapes and colors, while Adams depicts a tent lit up from an interior light source. Sundown suggests a homeless encampment during a rainstorm, with personal belongings stored for safekeeping as the water threatens the habitat. It is an evocative, mysterious scene, though not abstract in the way one usually thinks of the genre. Hilton simplifies her landscapes that resemble early twentieth century California plein air paintings, here with muted colors and a minimalist approach.

Elsewhere, other artists reference landscapes in increasingly abstract ways. Marie Thibeault’s intricate and active painting, Golden State, is a cityscape and commentary on the plight of our local environment (urban and otherwise), while Lynn Hanson’s Watershed II depicts a more sedate natural scene. For both artists, their subjects seem almost secondary to their beautiful painting.

Another category under the umbrella of abstraction is work that is driven by materials and  processes. Ed Moses, whose high-contrast textured painting of cracked oil paint, Untitled, is an example of an artist who has made his material the subject. Pamela Smith Hudson’s Hold Your Seat, also finds interest in materials, in her case wax, paint and pastels. She creates a texture and color, complex and deep, that evokes mysterious landscapes while keeping focus on the process.

In Generations, a few artworks function as paintings but are constructed from non-traditional materials. Liv Aanrud’s bombastic Forest Ornament is made almost entirely from textiles with stitching on top of a dyed and painted burlap substrate. Aanrud uses textiles much like paint, combining areas of different density fabrics against a background that is almost entirely covered by marks, not dissimilar to Tomory Dodge’s methodical patterning. Adjacent is Cheyann Washington’s felt only words passing, Winged Figure. Drawn with ink dyes on canvas, Washington’s simple suspended painting sways gently, putting the twisted shapes into motion. Her line work, reminiscent of Raymond Pettibon, accentuates the impression of a knotted form and brings interests and emotion to a simply constructed painting. Sandra Lauterbach is another textile artist. Blink, a joyful mélange of different black and white textiles and stitching exemplifies the application of painting principals transferred to different medium.

Lastly, though Generations is primarily a painting show, there are a few artists included who work three-dimensionally. Katie Kirk, one of the curators, has two wonderful clay sculptures on display. Hypochondriac Heart is a glazed ceramic sculpture that references the heart, with a surfeit of arteries entwining the muscle. It retains a lively organic presence suggesting movement and life.

Overall, the curators make their case that abstraction has thrived in Los Angeles and continues to engage artists. Though Generations includes exceptional artists across different media, the many notable absences of deserving and prominent artists dilute the show’s potential to fully chronicle the vibrant and broad history of abstraction in Los Angeles. As Peter Frank mentions in the show’s catalog, we can’t forget David Hockney and Richard Diebenkorn’s contribution to Los Angeles abstraction. And where was the work of Bob Zoell, June Edmonds, Mark Bradford and so many others? In a perfect world, it would have been great to see more sculpture and other media, but as an introduction, they have put together a show that expands our awareness of a community that perhaps has been overlooked as such. So, for those who say that historians create our history, maybe Alain Rogier, Laddie John Dill and Katie Kirk have written a new chapter in the history of Los Angeles art, and for that we should be thankful.

Abstract Los Angeles: Four Generations
Curated by Alain Rogier, Laddie John Dill, and Katie Kirk
Brand Library & Art Center

Liv Aanrud, Lisa Adams, Nick Aguayo, Charles Arnoldi, Billy Al Bengston, Lisa Bowman, Hans Burkhardt, Fatemeh Burnes, Daniela Campins, Andrés Cortes, Ariel Dill, Laddie John Dill, Tomory Dodge, Jill Gefen, Yvette Gellis, Rema Ghuloum, Iva Gueorguieva, Christine Garam Han, Lynn Hanson, Nasim Hantehzadeh, Fiona Hilton, Nick Hunt, Forrest Kirk, Katie Kirk, Sandra Lauterbach, Charity Malin, Constance Malinson, Jacob Melchi, Christina Mestiti, Aryana Minai, Andy Moses, Ed Moses, Jorge Mujica, Hagop Najarian, Margaret Nielsen, Claudia Parducci, Alicia Piller, Rebecca Rich, John Robertson, Steve Roden, Alain Rogier, Sharon Ryan, Hideo Sakata, Christian Sampson, Stephanie Sherwood, Pamela Smith Hudson, Marie Thibeault, Ann Thornycroft, Gagik Vardanyan, Cheyann Washington, Todd Williamson

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