Bachardy and Shiokava Digging Deep Into Their Souls

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I would guess that over the six decades of his career, Don Bachardy (b. 1934) – one of the best-known Los Angeles artists – has painted thousands of portraits. Portraits of his friends, portraits of his clients, portraits of his life-long partner, British novelist Christopher Isherwood, and, of course, hundreds of portraits of himself.

Installation shot, Don Bachardy: Self-Portraits. Craig Krull Gallery. Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Craig Krull Gallery.

The first sensation upon entering the new exhibition of Bachardy’s self-portraits at Craig Krull Gallery is that the artist is staring at you and judging you mercilessly. It takes time to remember that when artists make self-portraits, they study themselves in a mirror.

Self-Portraits by Don Bachardy. 2019. Photos courtesy Craig Krull Gallery.

In his earlier self-portraits, we see Bachardy as an attractive and self-assured young and middle-aged man. But, obviously, this kind of complimentary self-presentation isn’t his concern anymore. Now, in his mid-80s, Bachardy is digging deep into his soul: into his insecurities, his fears, and, yes, his mortality. In his latest self-portraits, he is visibly vulnerable, and, on occasions, we see him truly scared. Let me put it this way: few artists have been as amazingly brave as Don Bachardy to drop their façades and reveal their naked souls.

David Hockney (English, born 1937). 

Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 212 x 303.5 cm. Private collection. © David Hockney. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I want to remind you that David Hockney, a close friend of Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood, painted their portrait five decades ago, in 1968. It became one of Hockney’s best-known images, capturing the spirit and glamour of LA.

L & R: Installation shots, Kenzi Shiokava. Ben Maltz Gallery. Photos by Edward Goldman.

Another exhibition I urge you to see, as it’s closing at the end of this week, is an exhibition by Kenzi Shiokava (b. 1938) in the Otis College of Art and Design’s gallery. This Brazilian-born Japanese sculptor moved to Los Angeles in 1964, and for most of his life, supported himself as a gardener while quietly making his art.

Installation shot, Kenzi Shiokava. Ben Maltz Gallery. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Only a few years ago, I learned about Shiokava thanks to his beautifully installed totemic sculptures in The Hammer’s 2016 Made in L.A. Biennale. It was one of the first public presentations of his art. The current exhibition of his assemblages and sculptures at Otis, his alma mater, shows the artist’s unique understanding and love of wood, his primary material. If you come close to any of his wooden totems, I swear you’ll start to hear them tell their stories.

L & R: Installation shots, Kenzi Shiokava. Ben Maltz Gallery. Photos by Edward Goldman.

According to the exhibition’s curator Kate McNamara, Shiokava’s totems “concern … [the] visibility of the human spirit. Life, death, rebirth, and associations with the sacred can be detected within every hand-carved contour and elegantly placed object.”

As artists, Don Bachardy and Kenzi Shiokava couldn’t be more different – one a figurative painter, the other an abstract sculptor. But, what they share is a maturity and wisdom in their art – the result of many decades of searching for truth.



Kathleen Yore