The pungent aroma of fresh oil paint greets you as soon as you step into the chaotic sprawl of Vanessa Prager’s guesthouse-turned-studio in Glendale. Paint is abundant in Prager’s work: she applies it quite generously, and it sits and oozes in chunky, toothpaste-like tendrils on her canvases.
“I wanted to simulate blankets and furry hugs and comfort—that sense of something taking over you,” says Prager, 36, pointing to a trio of seven-foot-tall canvases with cadmium-charged figures trapped under seas of pastel-and-white tube squeezes.
Those works and a dozen others will comprise Static, her latest solo effort—her seventh in as many years—at Diane Rosenstein Gallery in Hollywood, running February 20 through April 10. “This idea of ‘static’ really seemed right because we’re all suspended in animation this year,” Prager says.
Her intuitive approach is a product of her upbringing. She grew up in a Los Feliz apartment, the daughter of hippie parents who raised her and her sister “to value this kind of life and not to think too much about the future,” she says. “We weren’t jammed into what was the right thing to do. We were just on our own plane where you don’t know too much so you don’t think too much.”
It was her older sister, Alex Prager, the autodidactic photographer whose elaborately staged photography and short films have been exhibited at museums from LACMA to MoMA, who provided a model for an improvised art career. After Vanessa finished high school—a boarding school outside of Portland, Oregon—she moved back to L.A. and lived with Alex for more than a decade.
“Vanessa and I were both hustling our art, challenging each other, helping each other with ideas, and putting up one-night-only shows wherever we could find good wall space,” recalls Alex, 41. “There was a certain point in her life when she couldn’t figure out how to get everything she was feeling into those paintings. This recent body of work is the most emotional of all.”
Backpacking through Europe in her teens, Prager discovered painters like Titian, El Greco, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Lee Krasner; they influenced her approach during the pandemic.
“I admired their paintings not so much for the technique but their ability to exist in their own time so perfectly,” says Prager. “I want to try and capture this sense of change, not only with the virus, but this reality that the naivete is gone, and that’s a coziness in itself. We just cannot go back in so many ways.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.