40 years of change in LA captured through Karla Klarin’s paintings

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Karla Klarin’s “Valley View, 1984” appears in her new book “L.A. Painter: The City I Know. The City I See.” Courtesy of Karla Klarin.

Los Angeles is an ever-changing city. Drive through a neighborhood you haven’t seen in a while, and suddenly there’s a block of new buildings, or maybe your favorite restaurant is now a bank. 

For the last 40 years, San Fernando Valley native Karla Klarin has been documenting these changes on canvas — using acrylic, oils, gouache, and more. They’re in the new book of essays and paintings called “L.A. Painter: The City I Know. The City I See.”

Klarin’s paintings emphasize the real estate above LA as much as on the ground. “I saw that the sky is the other half of the city. You don't have a city without a sky,” she shares, noting her fascination began because of LA’s pollution. “When I was a kid growing up in the valley in the 50s and 60s, I can't overstate how bad the smog was, and how it impacted all of us. It was a big deal. And when it was finally dealt with, I don't know, maybe 20 years ago, it was amazing. It's like, ‘Wow! There's a blue sky up there.’”

Karla Klarin’s “Glendale, Night, 1985” appears in her new book “L.A. Painter: The City I Know. The City I See.” Courtesy of Karla Klarin.

She paints much of LA in grids, often observing the city and sketching as her son drives her around. “Like everybody else, most of my LA experiences are from a car. … We do a lot of driving through canyons and mountains and then descending right into these suburbs,” Klarin notes. 

“Driving in LA is an abstract experience. My whole life has really been at arm's length in a car, driving and seeing the lines out in front of me, the streets, the highways, the angles from up above. If I'm on a freeway, I'm 12,14,16 feet above the ground. It's a very hard city to be intimate with.” 

Karla Klarin’s “LA Boogie-Woogie, 2022” appears in her new book “L.A. Painter: The City I Know. The City I See.” Courtesy of Karla Klarin.

Excerpt from “L.A. Painter: The City I Know. The City I See” 

In the 1950s while the San Fernando Valley was mutating from citrus groves and ranches, to a land of small stucco boxes, its sky was also mutating from blue to yellow. The smog caused our eyes and lungs to hurt. We didn't question it any more than we questioned the poorly thought out development of the valley. By the time the first water cascaded down the hill on the valley's north side, Mulholland’s friends had already divided up the real estate spoils in anticipation of liquid surge and the quick money to be made because of it. Those same men had shamelessly given their own names to the roads I grew up cruising. Sherman Way, Chandler and Van Nuys boulevards. Mulholland gave himself the best street of all. Mulholland Drive begins at the Hollywood freeway in the east, and zigzags westward at the top of the Santa Monica Mountains, stopping a few miles short of the Pacific Ocean where it ends as Mulholland Highway.