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Art of the City: The Artists

Get to know the artists’ artists, overlooked geniuses, and emerging talent we expect will achieve the stature of local pantheon dwellers like Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Chris Burden, John Baldessari, and Barbara Kruger

theessentials_masa_tBrenna Youngblood
Age 33, Downtown

The painterly wall pieces of Youngblood are rooted in photomontage. As a UCLA grad student in the mid-’00s, she would arrange snapshots into stuttering, prismatic reconfigurations of domestic objects like bathroom fixtures, brown vinyl furniture, portable televisions, and bare lightbulbs. Disorienting and deliriously beautiful, they also provoked subtle class (and race) discomfort. Lately her color palette has exploded, and her picture making has crossed over into pure abstraction. On occasion it’s even become explicitly political, as in www.Alphabetboys.com (2012), a grid of institutional acronyms from IRS to FEMA. Which is a good thing because, whether it’s politics or beautiful painting, plausible deniability can sustain you for only so long.

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Amanda Ross-Ho
Age 38, Eastside

In the 1980s and ’90s, there was a lot of chatter in academic circles about semiotics—the study of symbolic systems and how they operate—but much of the art that it generated was ham-fisted. Ross-Ho, a former ice-skating Olympic hopeful, found a way to break that short circuit with a body of work that ranges from giant message T-shirts, macramé wall hangings, and crocheted doilies to pegboard-mounted taxonomies of magazine clippings, childhood photos, and other ephemera. Reclaiming overlooked objects from the everyday, she conjures something strange and new. 

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Nancy Evans
Age 63, Venice

Born in Los Angeles, raised in Fresno, Evans has been one of the city’s most consistent, and consistently underrated, visual artists of the past few decades. Her abstract paintings are a sort of trippy extrapolation from the high modernism of the classic Bauhaus aesthetic—all grids and blobs articulated through meticulous composition and beautifully nuanced color choices. In the past she would augment these paintings with leaves and seedpods and other organic detritus re-created in porcelain, bronze, and plastic. More recently her sculptural forms have broken free from the canvas (burlap, actually) and acquired mythological elements, as in her globular Sphinx (2012), that transcend culture and time.

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Jim Shaw
Age 60, Eagle Rock

Shaw first gained attention in the late ’80s with My Mirage, a series of more than 150 objects outlining the coming-of-age of a prototypical American teen named Billy. Since that time he’s assembled Thrift Store Paintings, a collection of found amateur and often unintentionally surrealist paintings; he’s recorded his dreams as small, dense pencil drawings, then wildly surrealist Technicolor artifacts and installations (including a colossal bloodshot eye erupting from a TV set); and he’s “discovered” a 19th-century American religion called Oism. Shaw recently enjoyed his second major European retrospective. We’re still waiting for one in L.A., where Shaw has lived for decades.

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Jennifer Bolande
Age 55, Koreatown

Originally associated with Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and others from the “Pictures Generation” when she emerged in the ’80s, Bolande established her own identity with a unique blend of conceptual and formal concerns, from photography to sculpture to streamlined assemblages. A tenured professor at UCLA, she’s behind the sly plywood-patterned curtains installed in empty storefront windows throughout the city (a West of Rome Public Art project—see “Emi Fontana”). But Landmarks, the 30-plus-year survey of her work held at the Luckman Gallery last year, laid bare a range of preoccupations that juxtaposed theatrically framed landscapes, architectural follies, and cinematic semiotics. One highlight: a re-creation of her experience of the ’94 Northridge quake consisting of a film loop, an ultralow-frequency soundtrack, and a room-size cube made from washing machines and amplifiers.

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Marnie Weber
Age 53, Eagle Rock

With its Twilight fan paintings and zombie Kewpie dolls, the Goth re-revival has been responsible for a good 60 percent of the bad art produced in the last decade, but many of those same elements crop up in some of the best, including the films and collages of Weber. After transitioning from an ’80s postpunk musician to a ’90s performance artist, she began exploring a baroque dreamscape of graveyards, forests, circus tents, shorelines, and all kinds of ruined and abandoned buildings. These days Weber’s troupe of archetypes has evolved from cut-and-paste photomontages of human-animal hybrids into a diverse multimedia menagerie of witches, hobos, clowns, ventriloquists’ dummies, even rock bands composed of pale-faced ghosts of teenage girls.

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Juan Capistran
Age 36, Inglewood

Conceptually and formally rigorous, the elegant artworks of Capistran underscore one of the great secrets of poststudio practice: Art doesn’t have to be drained of its humor, warmth, and sensuality to be historically informed and politically challenging. Like with We Are Family (2001), a platform sculpture covered in a checkerboard grid of blue and red squares. Look closely and you’ll see they’re the red and blue kerchiefs of the Bloods and the Crips—a gesture that suggests parallels between Bauhaus utopianism and the utilitarian militaristic aesthetics of 1960s African American insurrection.

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Jeffrey Vallance 
Age 58, West San Fernando Valley

In a profession where success often means staking out a stylistic territory and sticking to it for decades, Vallance is like a secret agent, slipping past literal and conceptual borders. His initial fame came in 1979 with Blinky the Friendly Hen, a self-published book in which he documents buying a raw chicken at Ralphs and arranging its burial—casket and all—at a pet cemetery. Since then he’s traveled to Tonga to present that Polynesian island’s king with oversize scuba flippers, fashioned an alternate version of the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, and curated shows in the (now defunct) Liberace and Debbie Reynolds museums in Vegas featuring art created to blend in with the regular exhibits. For good measure, in 2011 Vallance published his version of the Bible, which included reproductions of his own religious works.

Photographs of Youngblood and Capistran by Spencer Lowell

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