Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Feature

Ben Sakoguchi

Detail from ‘Towers’, 2014, © Courtesy the artist/Bel Ami

“Pop & me in front of our brand new grocery store,” reads the inscription on a small acrylic painting, part of Ben Sakoguchi’s multi-panel “Postcards from Camp” (1999-2001). In the picture, a man in a long white apron holds a toddler in front of a neat shopfront underneath the date of the scene, 1940, and the ominous words “Before camp . . . ”

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Ulysses Jenkins

A photo taken during a rehearsal for Ulysses Jenkins’s ‘Without Your Interpretation’ (1984) © Courtesy the artist

In the early 1970s, a young muralist named Ulysses Jenkins was encouraged by a friend to come down to the boardwalk in Venice, Los Angeles, to check out a videomaking workshop. The Sony Portapak — the first portable consumer video camera — had come on to the market in the late 1960s and was still very expensive. New owners often ran workshops, renting out their equipment to try to recoup some of their costs.

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Howardena Pindell

Howardena Pindell, Untitled #100, 1979, Mixed media on board, 13 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches, Courtesy: Garth Greenan, New York

Many – if not all – artists eventually acquire origin stories, formative experiences to which all their subsequent artistic achievements can plausibly be traced. Tony Smith had his night-time drive on the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike; Louise Bourgeois had her father’s affair; Andy Warhol had his time drawing ads for shoes. Such stories become more meaningful as they recede in time, ossifying with use and reuse.

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Liz Larner

Liz Larner, black iris, 2021, plastic, 61 × 71 × 61 cm.
Courtesy: © Liz Larner, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Paris/London

Of all the plastic ever produced by humankind – over nine billion tonnes and counting – less than nine percent has been recycled. Some was burnt. Most of it went into landfill. This tally is not improving. Since 2017, when China stopped importing plastic waste, developed countries have been recycling less, not more.

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The Transcendental Painting Group

Composition #57/Pattern 29 (1938), Robert Gribboek. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Photo: Geistlight Photography, Albuquerque

Depending on who you ask, Helena Blavatsky was either a mystic and a sage who introduced Eastern spirituality to Western culture, with the stated aim of establishing ‘a universal brotherhood of humanity’, or she was a plagiarist, a racist and a fraud. If you ask me, she was a bit of both. Kurt Vonnegut called her ‘the Founding Mother of the Occult in America’, which is not entirely hyperbole. When she arrived from her native Russia, in 1873, the United States was already in the thrall of new religious movements such as Spiritualism, but it was Blavatsky’s co-founding of the Theosophical Society with fellow seekers Henry Olcott and William Quan Judge that cemented her influence on Western esotericism on both sides of the Atlantic. 

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Doyle Lane

Doyle Lane, c. 1976, El Sereno, Los Angeles. Photograph: Ben Serar

One afternoon in the early ’90s, the banking consultant Rudy Estrada returned to his mansion in Pasadena, Calif., to find two members of the local sheriff’s department standing over a lightly built African-American man spread-eagled on his front lawn.

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Betye Saar

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Black Girl’s Window (1969), Betye Saar. Photo: Rob Gerhardt/The Museum of Modern Art, New York; courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; © Betye Saar 2019

Betye Saar greets me, complaining. ‘I woke up in pain, so I’m grumpy today,’ says the artist, who will turn 93 a few days after we meet in late July. Recently she’s had to do so many ‘silly interviews’, she says, she has been left with no time to work. I’m not offended – it’s an understandable grievance. This year, when she might have hoped to enjoy some quiet time in her studio, or to tend her splendid hillside garden in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, she has instead been obliged to prepare for major solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until 5 April 2020) and at MoMA in New York (until 4 January 2020). On 2 November she will be honoured at LACMA’s annual Art+Film Gala, a calendar highlight for Los Angeles’ cultured elite. Read the rest of this entry »

Dilexi

Whatever Gets You Through the Night:
The Artists of Dilexi and Wartime Trauma

HWES-0001

H.C. Westermann, March or Die (1966). Pine, redwood, leather, ebony, metal, felt, and ink, 30.75 × 20 × 10.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and the Landing. Photo: Joshua White.

 

If you sometimes find life in America in 2019 to be a little too much, imagine living in California in the early 1960s. Since the end of the Second World War—a conflict that, for the United States, superficially led to domestic prosperity—the world had been racked with anxiety over the possibility of atomic apocalypse, while under McCarthyism a new strain of Fascism was spreading on home soil. Then just as progressive causes—including civil rights for African Americans—seemed to be gaining some ground, Kennedy was assassinated for no apparent reason, and for many on the left, all seemed utterly lost. Read the rest of this entry »

Judy Chicago

Three Faces of Man from ‘Power Play’ (1985), Judy Chicago, Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State University, Pennsylvania Photo: © Donald Woodman/ARS, New York; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Judy Chicago is excited. ‘This morning my Instagram completely exploded!’ she tells me, clutching her iPhone, when we meet at her Santa Monica hotel. It is late September 2018, the day after Christine Blasey Ford’s devastating testimony, and Brett Kavanaugh’s subsequent tantrum, during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. A friend has forwarded Chicago an article on the website Bustle headlined ‘The Whole Country Just Watched What Happens When Angry, Powerful Men Don’t Get Their Way’, in which the faces of Kavanaugh, Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley were shown as a triptych, contorted in what the writer described as ‘fury and condescension’.

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Mary Corse

marycorse_untitled White Diamond (Negative Stripe)_1965-2 copy

Mary Corse, Untitled (White Diamond, Negative Stripe), 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 84 in. Collection of Michael Straus. Photograph © Mary Corse

I am standing in Mary Corse’s studio, a large white box with a sloping flat roof that she built two years ago beside her home in the wild landscape of Topanga Canyon, just a few minutes north of Santa Monica. She has lived on the same secluded property, first with her two sons and now alone, since 1970. One side of the studio is given over almost entirely to sliding glass doors which frame a stunning view of the Santa Monica mountains, green with chaparral and live oaks, with ochre rocks jutting in between. Corse apologises for the emptiness of the studio; it is late May, and several new works have just shipped to her solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery, London (11 May–23 June), while a long-term installation of her paintings opened at Dia:Beacon a few days earlier, following the institution’s acquisition of three works from the 1960s and ’70s and another from 2010. Many more pieces have been gathered at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where her retrospective – the artist’s first solo museum survey – opens in June (until 25 November). Read the rest of this entry »