Field Note: LA

Apr 15th, 2013

People love to hate on LA. I get it— it’s a town that sprawls, unfurling without restraint across a semi-arid expanse, massive freeways cut through the landscape, pollution sits heavy in the air, roads are bogged down in traffic, and the weather stagnates in sunshine. And then there’s that shiny veneer smeared over every surface, not just the towering palm trees, the swimming pools, the glamorous homes tucked into the folds of hillsides, but also in the people and the way everyone seems to go about living their lives: the excess of beauty, the Chiclet-like teeth, the suntans and sunglasses, the big cars and valet parkers, the palpable ambition in the air, the snatches of gossip that linger long after the conversations have died, and the dreams that drift, rising and dipping, underneath the iconic Hollywood sign.

But I gotta say, I love LA. There’s no arguing that it’s a weird town… I mean, a really, really weird town, but it’s so many things at once: it’s still young and rawboned but voracious and greedy, it’s mythical and frivolous, it’s got a giddy ‘endless summer’ vibe and then a singular kind of terrifying seediness… and it’s steeped in the arts… but somehow no one wants to talk about that. LA is full of artists, writers, designers, actors— people who have come from all over to “make it.” But “making it” can be understood both literally and metaphorically; not everyone is aiming to ingratiate themselves into the Hollywood machine, some people are just “making it” with their hands, hearts and brains no matter who is watching, toiling away with paintbrushes, sewing machines, typewriters…well, you get the point. People come to LA to create the work they’ve always wanted to, to go big or go home, because there is still enough space to go around and the rents haven’t spiked quite as high as places like San Francisco and New York, and there is still a legacy of art appreciation and the money to back it up. From my point of view… if you are an artist, LA is a good town to be in.

I love LA because it’s full of incongruities, because the light there really is a hazy golden color, because revulsion and desire are somehow always yoked together, and because mythologizing, storytelling, and image making and breaking is just as much a part of the scenery as those towering palms. In the week that we stayed in LA visiting multiple artists in their studios, we traveled from Echo Park to Venice Beach to Laurel Canyon to downtown. There are many ways to live in LA, and the most significant thing I learned during our stay is if you think you know LA, that most certainly means you don’t. – NG

Photos: images 1 and 4 are from Larry Bell’s Venice Beach studio, images 2 and 3 are from the studio of April Street. Full studio visits with Larry, April and many other LA artists will be published over the coming months.