| July 7, 2015 | Culture
As LA consolidates its position as a global art capital, women are breaking down barriers one cutting-edge canvas and avant installation at a time. Meet five art stars of the new cultural vanguard.
Native Angeleno Fay Ray, 36, needed to step outside of LA and experience the cold concrete jungle of NYC to learn the true value that her childhood home added to her artistic life. “I think the lizard is my spirit animal,” says the artist, who earned her MFA at Columbia University. “Stepping outside and being smacked in the face with warmth and sunlight makes it easier for me to work. Coming home in 2009 was a process of healing.”
From working at many different art spaces (LAXART, LACMA) to starting her own gallery to assisting artist John Baldessari, Ray experienced every avenue of the art world, thus giving her a unique perspective into both the business and creative sides of the field. “In Los Angeles you can author your own art scene—you can put your art up on a cinder block wall in your apartment, and people will come. There are many more opportunities here than there are artists.” And people do come to see Ray’s meticulously crafted work. She has found early and sustained success nationwide, with upcoming gallery shows that will exhibit both her sculptures and her image-based collages. Ray initially viewed these collages as sketches for her sculptures that were often too momentous or too expensive to make, but they took on a life of their own. “I always had the two streams going, and it used to torture me,” she says. “Now I’ve surrendered, and the new work will have aspects of both!”
Inspired by female artists like Sarah Lucas, Valie Export, and Hannah Hoch, Ray’s pieces live in a feminine space, often contemplating the use of female imagery and construction in the media. “I make work from the inside out, and some of the themes I work through are essentially female. I’m not afraid of feminine-looking sparkly stuff, even if I don’t trust it.” It is in her collages that she takes bits and pieces, changes the scale of images, and inserts her own photographs to change their contexts and meanings. “I’m trying to rescue the beauty in there and dignify it.”
Fay Ray’s work can currently be seen in the group show “Bananas” at Gallery Diet in Miami and in a solo show in early 2016 at Louis B. James Gallery in NYC. Ray’s work is also on display at MAMA Gallery in Los Angeles with the exhibit “To Hide To Show” through July 25, 2015.
With a long résumé of well-received shows at museums including MOCA, The Contemporary in Baltimore, and LACMA, Alexandra Grant is just hitting her stride. However, that doesn’t mean the 42-year-old is resting on her laurels—her latest body of work is not what most would expect. Her new series of paintings, “Antigone 3000,” has been hidden in the artist’s studio for the past year, and it has a sense of freedom and play not found in her earlier, often text-based pieces. Many artists would be nervous unveiling such a divergent body of work, but surrounded by her new paintings, Grant exudes excitement.
“For me the nerves come at the beginning of the project, but once I give myself permission to change, I get excited.” These vibrant works of color and line, which debuted at Barnsdall Art Park as part of the COLA (City of Los Angeles) Fellowship the artist recently received, “harken back to childhood and the freedom of spilling paint. I feel like, at this stage in my career, I’ve earned the right to experiment,” she says. And for Grant, there is no better town in which to flex one’s creative muscles than Los Angeles, which she calls “the city of creative energy.” Besides having a generous art community, a landscape dotted with ample opportunities, and a taste of the Mexican culture she grew up with in Mexico City with her mother, then the head of US-Mexico educational exchanges for The Fulbright Program, she “was drawn to the LA art scene by artists like Barbara Kruger, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari—all of whom have a conceptual approach and language in their work.”
But it is not just in these other visual artists that Grant finds inspiration, as collaboration is at the heart of her artistic philosophy. From her series of bubble works created with hypertext author Michael Joyce to her second book project with actor Keanu Reeves, Shadows, coming out later this year by Steidl Books, Grant embraces the creativity of others. “I feel in cahoots with all of them,” she says. “It allows the opportunities to be bigger and lets my creativity flourish.”
Alexandra Grant is currently in the group show, “We Must Risk Delight: Twenty Artists from Los Angeles,” at la Biennale di Venezia, Biennale Arte 2015.
“When I landed here in my 20s from Puerto Rico and saw all the lights and grids from the air, I felt like I was a pioneer in a new land,” recalls Gisela Colón. It is that idea of discovery and innovation that informs the artist’s work, which will be featured in more than six solo museum shows in the next two years. After abandoning her career in law, Colón, 48, evolved from being an abstract painter to a sculptor and continuously employs this sense of reinvention in her work. Her new Glo-Pods—recently shown at Ace Gallery and soon to be gracing the pages of her first monograph—are innovative in both their form and fabrication. By pushing the limits of technology and science, Colón created a proprietary method of imbuing acrylic sculptures with light, air, and color. “Los Angeles allows artists to push boundaries and use all the different industries to create new discoveries.” Colón’s vision refers back to the Light and Space art movement originating in LA in the ’60s, which focused on minimalism and abstraction and was popularized by artists like DeWain Valentine, Robert Irwin, and Donald Judd. She, however, pushes that vocabulary of symmetry and precision into a more organic—perhaps a more female—space. “With regard to the sexual overtones some read in my works, my art has been identified as feminist. Although I do not consider myself a ‘feminist’ per se, I do agree there is power in being a woman.” Her pods have a life of their own, constantly changing appearance and shape depending on light, angle, and how they are hung. “I wanted to create an object that can change its nature depending on the environment and the viewer,” she says. “This inherent mutability allows the work to always become something new.”
In September Colón’s work will be exhibited at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
Whether it was the legacy of creativity in her family (including her printmaking grandmother and her modernist sculptor great-aunt) or a city that embraced and showcased the arts with its excellent public museums, Chicago-born artist Lisa Williamson, 37, lived and breathed art even before she decided to make it her profession. “I was a late bloomer, but I have always been a lover of arts and always was making art shyly,” she says. There is a unique language to Williamson’s work that embodies the dialogue she has with the arts all around her.
Working in multiple mediums, including painting, sculpture, and writing, she looks to “create a totally autonomous space where my internal dialogue turns into something tangible.” She describes her current sculpture work as having a totemic presence, informing any given art space with a sense of strange conversation among the objects themselves: “They are a forest of objects all similar but manipulated in a different way.” Some of her work is also site-specific, the architecture of the given space guiding the work —for instance, her pieces in the Hammer Museum’s first Made in LA show in 2012 were crafted specifically with the museum’s vault gallery in mind: “One object informs the next in conversation with each other and the architecture.”
Settling in LA after receiving her MFA at USC, Williamson acknowledges the ease of living in a city known for its exceptional art spaces and schools. Los Angeles is a place where “multiple generations of artists have access to one another. I am always examining longevity and how artists can be in it for the long haul.” Influenced by other female artists like Barbara Smith and Simone Forti, Williamson hopes for a day when gender is a nonissue. “I don’t feel limited as a woman, but the more inclusion, the better,” she says.
Williamson shares a studio with her artist husband, Leroy Stevens, and art continues to weave a strong thread through her life. “We have an implicit understanding of what each of us is going through,” she says. “Having that support in my life gives my work an added boost.”
In a town that famously celebrates youth over talent, painter Carol Sears, 73, is turning that stereotype on its head with a new collection of well-received and beautifully lyrical abstract paintings. Success can happen at any age, and it was only three years ago that Sears was able to make art her full-time profession. “I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she says. “I remember being in kindergarten in Sydney, Australia, and making a plasticine elephant that the teacher praised and put on her shelf. I remember how special that made me feel and how I wanted to keep doing that.”
Sears worked as much as she could for many years, mostly as a figurative painter, but could not find a true signature until recently: “I started with abstraction with line, form, and color, and it finally started to gel.”
Sears begins by taking shapes from nature and drawing them on the canvas. She then paints around and through the drawings. “I see beyond the leaves on the tree; I abstract it, and it could be anything,” she says. “It’s an intuitive process, and it’s a great joy to have it come together.” A passionate lover of all the arts, Sears sees inspiration in everything around her—from the light on her deck to the work of such artists as Cézanne, Modigliani, and de Kooning: “Everything I look at I turn into a painting. I dream in clay; I can’t turn it off. It all feeds me.”
For Sears, Los Angeles is the ideal city to nurture her creative spirit, as its approach to art and artists is more relaxed. (“There are so many rules in New York,” she says, “It’s too anxiety-ridden.”) Her professional success could not be coming at a better time, as the artist recently faced a grave health crisis that almost made painting impossible. Now that she is regaining her strength and is able to work again, Sears’ process is back on track: “If I get [a painting] right, that’s all I care about… that I did it.”