More and more Europe has come to understand and appreciate the artistic output of Los Angeles. gleaning makes an important contribution to this ongoing dialogue. What is particularly valuable about this small, yet powerful exhibition is its clear focus on the diverse range of pictorial expression currently being employed by Los Angeles artists. The work of these six artists, Barbara Drucker, Jill Giegerich, George Herms, Kady Hoffman, John M. Miller and Patty Wickman, reveals the city’s current range of artistic strategies including assemblage, minimalism, symbolic realism and conceptual art making. While many regions tend to focus on one, at most two trends or methods of operation, the artists of Los Angeles are committed to furthering the dialogue in all major areas of inquiry as defined by Post War art.
In considering the defining features of art produced in Southern California, one is continuously reminded of the strong sense of individualism and independence that exists here and which guides the artists in this exhibition. The works in gleaning evidence an avoidance of fashionable or formulaic solutions which tend to guide a group or define a school of artists. Almost defiantly, and with a great deal of vigor, intelligence and determination, the artists in this exhibition seek out distinctive and personal artistic solutions and identities.
The artists included in this exhibition can all be characterized as mid-career. This concept is important in understanding both the spirit and some of the motivation for organizing this exhibition. As in society in general, and in the art world specifically, there is a constant search for the new. This obsession or fixation with the new raises a significant problem for the more mature artist, whose formidable task is to continue to explore and develop a chosen line of inquiry and not languish or fall into formulaic production. The artists in this exhibition are all producing fresh, creative solutions to ongoing artistic problems. As mature professionals these artists share a high level of confidence in their creative solutions, rich insight based on years of thoughtful production and steadfast clarity of vision.
Los Angeles has a rich artistic heritage. Over the past fifty years it has produced artists of national and international importance including Chris Burden, Charles Ray, John Baldessari, David Salle, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Ed Keinholtz, Sam Francis and Vija Celmins. The artists selected for this exhibition distinguish themselves by adding to this region’s very rich artistic environment.
The senior artist of the exhibition, George Herms, is literally a legend in the history of West Coast art. He has been referred to as “the poet of the urban milieu.” For close to 50 years he has transformed the detritus of our lives into poetic visions. Like many of his peers, Herms has the unique and undisputed ability of taking the matter-of-fact and often the over-looked and magically transforming it into an object or image full of wonder and contemplation.
When looking at the series “Calendar Notations” one realizes that Barbara Drucker is probably as close to a pure conceptual object and image maker as anyone currently working in Southern California. Like her colleague John M. Miller, what makes her work compelling is the rigor she applies to her choice of forms and materials, and the integration of object, image and content. Conceptual art making requires a systematic reduction down to essence. In “Material Evidence: Wall of Hair “ conceptual content is clearly expressed but not at the expense of the preservation of poetry and magic. In the hand of an artist as confident and competent as Drucker there is clearly no visual sacrifice. Through the process of conceptual reduction an actual liberation of transformative potential and psychological insight is revealed.
Jill Giegerich came to prominence with her quirky images and objects of commonly recognizable forms. Her contribution to what became known as “New Figuration” distinguished itself by the artist’s unique methods of depiction. Giegerich’s work sets itself apart by its inventiveness, humor and irony. As captured in her mixed-media work “Coils, Figure, Wig” a human torso hovers over an enigmatic landscape as if floating in a dream-like state of consciousness. Potent symbolic imagery can again be found in “Untitled” 2001, one of the works included in this exhibition. As in all of Giegerich’s work the viewer is not quite certain where the forms have been, nor where they are headed, nonetheless one is compelled to follow these fascinating enigmas along their mysterious journeys.
The lush landscapes of Kady Hoffman are about a moment frozen in time. Like earlier surrealist image makers, and even the American painter Georgia O’Keefe, this artist’s imagery suggests that in stillness and in quiet contemplation comes the possibility for liberation. In order to make this transformative moment meaningful Hoffman has charged each depicted scene with realistic credibility - it feels real - yet it’s purposefully ambiguous and equally suggests that it is clearly not a part of our objective reality. Drawn into the scene because it is somewhat familiar yet intriguing one experiences Hoffman’s world through a leap of faith and is drawn into a different order of reality.
Patty Wickman has deservedly come to the fore of Los Angeles pictorialism with her compelling and complex images of contemporary alienation. As a painter well versed in narrative motifs her works engage and captivate the viewer’s imagination. Wickman seems to be painting a dream. And, as in a dream, at first glance, it all feels incredibly real - that is, until one realizes that what is depicted implies the occurrence or conclusion of an event which one is hardly ready to confront or accept. The viewer finds oneself willingly drawn into Wickman’s world and then fighting for air. The dream has become a quiet scream. Yet as one views this reality within the illusionary world of a depicted image one is not allowed the relief of consciousness - the scream continues on - with the result being a body of extremely potent and provocative work.
For many observers of the art scene in Southern California over the last 25 years, the career of John M. Miller distinguishes itself for the artist’s unrelenting commitment to a single aesthetic pursuit: clarity of vision realized through a very defined and limited artistic strategy. For Miller this equates to a highly reductive set of markings placed regularly and evenly over the entirety of the picture support. All marks appear to be identical, yet these marks, not quite echoing the picture support, tend to engage the viewer and at the same time keep one at bay. This strategy results in works, which are subtle and demanding, kind yet not accommodating. If the viewer gives these very distilled and rigorous works a chance they can become a guide to a profound sense of the here and now.
Fred Hoffman, Catalog Essay, 2002