BEHOLD THE CITY AS INSPIRATION
Local artists glean ideas from their environments as the Fisher Gallery
teams with the California Afro-American Museum for “Take 2″ exhibit
Every few weeks, Los Feliz-area artist Dorothy Braudy loads her Canon
camera, attaches a telephoto lens and heads for the Los Angeles Zoo.
Arriving on a weekday afternoon, when the crowds are thin, the devoted
animal lover hunts down images that will capture her ambivalent
attitude toward this prison/preserve of the wild.
Braudy photographs the animals in deeply private moments. Then, back at
home, she makes prints that are so small they have to be seen with a
magnifying glass. The viewer is made to feel like a voyeur.
“I love zoos,” she explained, “but then I hate to see the animals in
captivity. I don’t know if animals have a sense of privacy, but if they
do, we certainly intrude upon it.”
As Angelenos have learned in the past two years, theirs is a city of
destructive powers – socially and environmentally. But as a new
exhibition at the Fisher Gallery demonstrates, it also is a great
source of artistic inspiration.
“Take 2″ – a groundbreaking collaboration between the Fisher and the
California Afro-American Museum that opens Tuesday, Nov. 15, and
continues through Jan. 22 – presents more than 100 works by local
artists who, like Braudy, have mined their ambivalence toward their
environment for inspiration.
Dreams, junk mail, a freshly pruned tree, even security bars provided
fodder for the 13 featured artists, all of whom are female. These
seemingly innocuous points of departure lead to commentary on weighty
topics ranging from the exploitation of animals to urban malaise, from
consumerism to apocalypse.
“Thematically, we’re using the environment as an umbrella term,”
explained Max F. Schulz, the exhibit’s curator. “Any part of the earth
we live in can be part of the environment – from the immaterial world
to the everyday world.”
The exhibition is part of “LAX/94,” the second biennial citywide arts
festival. Designed to spotlight Southern California artists, “LAX/94″
involves eight other local galleries and museums: Pasadena’s Armory
Center for the Arts; Cal State Los Angeles; the Japanese-American
Cultural and Community Center; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions;
the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery; Otis College of Art and Design;
the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Public Library.
As “Take 2″ comprises only works that have been produced within the
past two years, disaster is a common theme to the exhibit. Visitors
will find references to fires, civil unrest, floods and earthquakes.
These associations with Los Angeles’ recent rocky ride aren’t always
intentional, however. For instance, the partially submerged home
depicted in Beyonder: The House and the Flood, by Los Feliz artist
Marina Moevs, only appears to be awash. Actually, the moody landscape
is a hallucination, conveying “an atmosphere of inexplicit but
nevertheless ominous sexual threat,” Schulz said.
Santa Monica painter Sue Dirksen’s multi-panel Emergence seems to show
a ragged earthquake fault, but it’s really an invitation to contemplate
a rift in the land – sacred to Native Americans – at Chaco Canyon in
New Mexico, Schulz said.
And while Malibu artist Franceska Schifrin’s German Expressionist-style
mixed-media pieces depict civil unrest reminiscent of April 1992, they
are actually set in Haiti and Bosnia.
In other works, the touchstones are all too real. After a gardener
pruned the avocado tree that stands in the middle of her back yard,
Altadena artist Yvonne Cole Meo set out last September to feature it in
“It had just been so full of leaves that I’d never realized the beauty
of its anatomy, so I thought I’d do a forest scene,” she recalled.
But images of brilliant fire colors “just kept coming” to her, she
said, so she created stylized landscapes in which the tree was set not
in the woods but in flames. Two months later, the Altadena fire of 1993
roared within a block of Meo’s house.
Stunned by her prescience but undeterred, Meo plugged ahead with the
series. By December, she was painting the tree split by a terrible
tremor. She still shakes her head as she thinks of the Northridge
earthquake a short month later.
“They say artists are prophetic, but I feel like we’re living in
apocalyptic times,” she said.
From the beginning, the exhibition was conceived as a collaboration
between CAAM and the Fisher. Located across Exposition Boulevard from
one another, the museum and gallery had longed to join forces but
lacked the right occasion.
“Many of the people who visit CAAM have never set foot in the Fisher
Gallery, and vice versa,” said Kay Allen, the gallery’s associate
director. As half the participating artists are African-American, “Take
2″ seemed a fitting inaugural step for collaboration. “It is a perfect
opportunity” to expand the audiences for both institutions and enhance
a sense of community, Allen said.
The exhibit was conceived as a unity, so visitors who miss one
institution or the other won’t get the complete picture.
The organizers of the show set out to feature women artists – both
established and emerging – in recognition of the uphill battle they
“Women artists struggle against what is basically a male-dominated art
world,” Schulz said.
A theme evolved as Schulz – a professor emeritus of English who last
year completed the Museum Studies Program and now is a volunteer
curator at the Fisher – pored over hundreds of slides and vitae.
“In one way or another, they all seemed to deal with their environment
or surroundings, whether from a socio-political frame of reference or
from a spiritual one,” he said.
Women artists have only recently been able to broaden their canvas and
draw inspiration from their environment. In earlier centuries, women
were limited to painting still lifes, because they were banned from
life-drawing classes, Schulz said. The “Take 2″ artists were inspired
by their surroundings for the same reasons that writers find Los
Angeles compelling, he believes.
“It’s a city of an almost infinite and inexhaustible range of human
experience,” Schulz said.
For Woodland Hills artist Phoebe Beasley, inspiration came in the form
of a fast-food coupon delivered one day by her mailman.
“It was for something like a ‘Big Gulp’ and a big drink,” she recalled
with a laugh. “Not only was it something you couldn’t fathom finishing,
but they wanted to give you more. It really triggered the issue of how
destructive consumerism can be.”
The result is Buy One, Get One Free, a soulful collage of shoppers
laden with bags. It is part of a series in “Take 2″ that explores
environmental themes through everyday scenes.
Just as unlikely were the sources of inspiration for Braudy, a former
figure painter who is married to English professor Leo Braudy. In
addition to the zoo, she got ideas for her latest work – which takes up
a whole room at the Fisher – from visits to the homes of friends with
pets and from a videotape of a safari produced for the enjoyment of
aspiring big-game hunters.
The resulting multimedia installation – which comprises the video, a
large fresco of an elephant, animal pelts and images of zoo animals and
pets – explores the exploitation as well as romanticism of animal life.
“I’m meditating on how we see animals,” she said. “It says so much
about how we see ourselves.”
[Photo:] Artist Dorothy Braudy and curator Max F. Schulz before her
fresco Blind Harvest. Braudy’s works take up an entire room of the
[Photo:] Marina Moevs’ oil and tempera Beyonder: The House and the
[Photo:] Phoebe Beasley’s collage Buy One, Get One Free.
[Photo:] Good Morning America, It’s Your Wake Up Call, oil on canvas by
[Photo:] Sue Dirksen’s Emergence combines handmade Japanese paper with
masonite in a dramatic, 13-panel portrayal of New Mexico’s Chaco