Art Insider Jan. 28: Celebrating South Central LA, cinematic paintings, and landscape meets architecture

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An artist uses sign-painting culled from South Central L.A. to create a maximal installation; cinematic paintings skew narrative; and an artist looks at the connections between architecture and nature. 

Lauren Halsey at David Kordansky Gallery

Lauren Halsey,
My Tuch (2020). Vinyl, aluminum cladding, LED, power supply, acrylic, enamel, sand, and objects on wood. 60 x 48 x 48 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery. Photo: Jeff McLane.

At David Kordansky Gallery, walking into Halsey’s untitled installation is a shock to the system. Stacks and stacks of painted boxes and signage have been installed to create a strangely-scaled fantasy city. As the installation tumbles and moves, the eye desperately races around to take in the visual cues. 

Text dominates. Each phrase is faithfully reproduced from hand-painted signs that Halsey spots around the city, rooting her visual language in the streets.

Each stack of boxes reads like a still life, or even a poem, juxtaposing different text and signs together to create a unified whole. The stacked cubes in My Hope (2020) read: “DA WAH, My Hope, Just Real, Grace & Truth, Book Shop: Incense Body Oils.” Each phrase is painted in its own custom typeface. 

One sign stands in for the overall ethos of the exhibition as it reads: “Yes, We’re Open, and Yes, We’re Black-Owned.” Halsey, simply by collecting, documenting, and grouping, argues for space and autonomy while celebrating black excellence within Los Angeles.   

Lauren Halsey (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Lauren Halsey’s exhibition is filled with typography celebrating South Central and the Crenshaw District. While most seem to be repainted in a spirit of homage, Halsey recalls the complicated messaging that hand-painted signs can expose. 

She explains in an L.A. Times article: “It was very aggressive stuff—the handmade signage, the rules for going into a mini market that criminalize me and I’m not even a criminal. ‘No Drugs. No Drug Dealing. No Washing Your Car on the Premises.’ All these threats just to go buy a piece of candy.” 

As such, Halsey’s collection of signage and ephemera of South Central L.A. is celebratory, while still displaying the contradictions and complications of a neighborhood that is rapidly facing threats of gentrification. 

“It’s my nightmare,” says Halsey in the same LA Times piece. “I think about it every day, and about making projects that somehow aren’t the seed or accelerator for displacement. The train is coming, stadiums are here, the destiny is written.” 

Halsey, who lives and works in South Central, remains committed to documenting, celebrating, and ultimately protecting the vulnerability of the neighborhood. 

On view: January 25–March 14, 2020

Honor Titus at Henry Taylor’s Studio

Honor Titus,
The Races with Ray (2019). Oil on canvas, 42 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Henry Taylor. 

Artist Henry Taylor likes to host parties. Over the past couple of years, he’s been hosting pop-up exhibitions in his studio, each one featuring a young emerging artist. This act — an established top-selling artist putting his weight behind a younger up-and-comer — can have a lot of sway. 

This last weekend, Taylor opened up his studio with a selection of paintings from L.A.-based Honor Titus, playfully titled Goodness Gracious . The paintings are both moody and humorous (one is cheekily titled Tom Hanks at Lassens ), and they feel quietly cinematic, although the plotline is always evasive. 

The press release describes Titus: “His moral stance is one of openness to the world, ready to take on experiences and belong to something greater than he is.” 

Indeed, Titus’ paintings become conduits of little fragmented moments: Men watch a movie in a theatre; a jazz player sits on a chair by the window playing trumpet; a group of hands throw confetti, celebrating a horse race. 

The dream-like quality and delicate linework of these uncanny paintings pull you in, although the lack of narrative — intentional or not — can feel a bit frustrating as a viewer. 

On view: January 25–February 15, 2020

Nick McPhail at Ochi Projects

Nick McPhail,
Windows (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Ochi Projects. 

At Ochi Projects in Mid City, Nick McPhail’s paintings depict neighborhoods of a different sort — the ones nestled high on the hills of L.A. with views that sweep across the landscape. 

McPhail, who was employed for a time by a landscape architect, depicts the meeting of nature and architecture. These are not scenes of gritty urban L.A. Alluring underpainted colors demarcate and outline McPhail’s modernist structures and landscapes, each possessing a buzzy internal glow. 

Stepped Wall (all works 2019) pictures a large retaining wall buttressing a house above, framed by palms. The vantage point is from below, as if we are outside looking up at this monolithic, walled-off home. 

Other works grant us an entrance into these exclusive spaces, as in Reflection with Table , where the vantage point has you looking out through french doors. 

The mood of this work, like all of the works on view, feels longing or lonely, as if once granted access, we might yearn for the streets below. 

On view: January 11–February 15, 2020