The perpetual nowness of then

Like a breathstrip

Los Angeles is not very good at remembering. The problem is something that art critic and writer Hunter Drohojowska-Philp called “perpetual nowness”—in our constant quest for the hottest, newest, trendiest, sexiest, we suffer from a collective cultural amnesia about what happened five minutes ago. This was a day for us to focus on some of the “then-ness” by visiting the art and artists who made LA’s art scene one of the richest in the world. And for me, it was a way to connect their legacies to what I write about today.

Kauffman's graceful work

To see evidence of what came before, Drohojowska-Philp took us to Frank Lloyd’s gallery in Bergamot Station, where we saw the work of California minimalist Craig Kauffman, who died this year. On each wall of the gallery were untitled pieces from his Loops series: Long ribbons of tinted plastic slung gracefully over tiny wires, unfurling towards the floor like the world’s most decadent fruit roll-up, and looking every bit as tasty.

Craig Kauffman's beautiful pieces

Everything I knew about design—the blobular furniture, the plastic fantastic, the obsession with translucence—it all came from right here. Southern California was the only place artists could stroll around their neighborhoods and collaborate with auto shops slapping fluorescent orange paint on custom cars or manufacturing windows for airplanes. This was where the future was made.

Moses in his gallery

Kauffman actually came up with the idea for his creations during a trip to Orange Julius with painter Ed Moses. And although I’m plenty familiar with Moses’ work, I didn’t fully appreciate its impact until we stepped into his sunny, paint-spattered Venice compound. He sat in his studio, wearing black-and-white checked sunglasses that matched the herringbone-patterned canvases that surrounded him, and matter-of-factly explained his process, beginning with some ground rules. He’s not an artist, he told us. Nor does his work have any meaning. And don’t even try calling him “creative”—he hates that word.

Fabric Ed Moses uses to spray paint patterns

But as we wandered his space, I realized he was kind of right. He explained to us how he layered canvases with the textures of fabrics and stencils, creating eight to 10 canvases a day. So much work that he estimates he discards 200 canvases a year that aren’t up to snuff. In the courtyard were the massive pieces of fabric being used as giant stencils, thrown onto the canvas as he coaxes image after image out of them. To him, it’s all about the power of repetition. He’s basically a human screenprinting factory. He’s a graphic machine.

Can you spot me in the Ed Moses painting?

Each piece was a sizzling slice of SoCal—pop textiles and surf graphics and 8-bit animation—all rolled into an eight-foot canvas. As you can see, I really could get into Moses’ work.

But our little group is not the only ones looking back at our rich art history: Next year, over 60 institutions across Southern California will unite to celebrate post-war art in Los Angeles, in a show named Pacific Standard Time. Of course it’s great that we’ll finally be able to pause and look over our shoulders at what makes LA such a great city for art. But what I really hope is that Pacific Standard Time creates a way to visualize these legacies—through a life-sized timeline? a massive family tree?—connecting what each these of these artists made with what LA is still making, right now.

More about the USC/Annenberg Getty Arts Journalism Fellowship. More photos here.

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  • Grace

    Great article. Love the last picture of you blending into the painting. Was that planned?
    Grace Comisso

  • Meg Glasser

    Your photos are beautiful!
    -meg g

  • Carren Jao

    Love that you're blogging this. It feels like we're going on a little trip back in LA arts history too :) Thanks!

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