The notion that Los Angeles isn’t a regular city—that it’s not a city at all, but a lifestyle, a collection of cross streets and cultural quirks bound by sunshine, June gloom, and Santa Ana winds—isn’t a novel idea. The theme has been explored in art, literature, and film by the likes of Raymond Chandler, David Hockney, Joan Didion, and Larry David, to name just a few.
But Todd Carpenter goes further.
“There is no Los Angeles,” the artist has said. “The term ‘Los Angeles’ is merely a reference to a group of ideas and feelings that people have towards a vaguely defined geographic area. It is not even a single idea: each person who thinks of Los Angeles is thinking of something different.”
“Los Angeles,” he says, “is the air that enters your body and becomes a part of your molecules when you are in a certain region of California. More than this, Los Angeles is the light that passes through it, the light not of the stars but of the sun.”
For his new exhibition, “Sky Without Angels or Stars,” at KP Projects in Los Angeles, Carpenter calls upon a palette of black, white, and gray to render the L.A. gestalt in a moody, even sinister, light. The palette allows him to focus on the city’s spatial and emotional aspects, rather than its distracting particulars and people.
In other words, celebrities, sun, and fun aren’t major concerns—refreshingly so, as the light and space movement descends upon the West Coast once again. In lieu of sun-drenched beaches, neon glows, and towering rows of verdant palms, Carpenter chooses power lines, storm clouds, and gray trees mired in smog. Some pieces border on frightening; others dip into the apocalyptic. If Los Angeles is, in fact, a place, it’s not as welcoming as the postcards make it out to be. Which is true.
“These paintings attempt to portray what it feels like to be in Los Angeles,” Carpenter has said, “or possibly what it feels like to dream of it. And these dreams are devoid of people, like empty stage sets not yet populated by stars, free from the judgment of Angelinos and waiting to be filled with the desires of the dreamer.”
“Todd Carpenter: Sky Without Angels or Stars” is on view at KP Projects, Los Angeles, Jul. 30–Aug. 27, 2016.