Yes, art fairs do sort of rock, especially in a town like LA (or should I say sprawl like LA) where doing a gallery crawl can require a gallon of gas and an hour of driving. And even then you wind up with the same cast of curators. Now, mind you, I’m not complaining - because the LA gallery scene is absolutely popping. And there are avenues where the galleries line up quite nicely, with only a few blocks of walking in between openings (which allows the effects of your first glass of wine to dissipate), and where the assorted viewings can make for a jolly evening. But here’s the thing about art fairs, at least the big ones - they draw an international group of galleries. And this is where it gets really interesting.
One reason to hit an art fair is, naturally, that you see loads of art. This can be overwhelming, but if you keep your wits about you’ll discover and find yourself attracted to work you might never have otherwise. And if you’re in the market for a painting or sculpture, much of the work is affordable. (Of course the other pull is that the people watching is on a level ten. On opening night, at least, it seems like every artistic soul on the west side has arrived to see and be seen. Costumes abound.)
But the real advantage of contemporary art fairs is that they provide a cross section of global aesthetics. At the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair, which opened last night, some of the strongest showings came from galleries in New Zealand, China, London and, well, Los Angeles.
That said, for me the three most original artists were African American: David Leggett out of Chicago (Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago), Dapper Bruce Lafitte out of New Orleans (M+B Gallery, Los Angeles), and Trenton Doyle Hancock out of Houston (Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles). All three artists are plying the burgeoning genre of American vernacular - a mix of narrative, written statements, comics, and politics. They all share a bold sense of design and color, yet each of these artists has a unique personal style and mission.
Doyle Hancock (his work is featured above) has developed an entire mythology based on his theory of the Mound - a meme that represents the essentially social component of human life, one unified by a shared field of mind. In chatting with him, Hancock referenced Joseph Campbell, and yet his work accesses a playful iconography, often punctuated by his own Mound brand logos, that would blow Campbell’s mind. His powerful graphic sense pulls on fully saturated color and strong patterning reminiscent of game boards. His cast of amusing, doleful characters are often imprinted with remarks and narrative leads. “Pink juice better known as mound meat is the lifeblood of a Mound…” Doyle Hancock’s journey will certainly yield more such phenomenal work.
Dapper Bruce Lafitte’s work (above), with its intense almost obsessive repetition of pattern and cartoon like imagery, slides most easily into a folk or outsider art idiom. Subjects range from prize fights to funerals and usually incorporate myriad tiny figures simply sketched in markers. Commentary, also written in marker, appear like notes, bear phrases like “The Game is Mine” or “I See you Lookin’” and participate in the boasting modes of Muhammed Ali (a featured player in many of the boxing scenes) or Gangsta rappers.
David Leggett’s highly graphical canvases and prints often feature large funky cartoon heads and Leggett captures character in an astoundingly calligraphic way. These heads are often isolated in a field of intense primary color, or flanked by marijuana leaves or tiny flowers. Phrases such as “Folk Art Wit a Gangsta Lean” done in cut out felt letters underscore an already comedic stance. Hmmm, I may return to see what the price tag is on his work. His star is sure to rise in the art world.
Anyhow - if you’re in LA, get your little butts out to the fair and open some new neuropathways in your brains!
(Held in Santa Monica at the Barker Hangar.