Steve Galloway and Christophe Leroux on the International Radar
I had the opportunity to speak with both artists separately about their practice, discuss their recent works, and examine the influence of showing in Los Angeles and abroad. While Leroux and Galloway were interviewed separately, their responses have a remarkable semblance to one another.
In City of Quartz, Mike Davis recognizes Los Angeles as being unlike any other city space because its crudely geometric and grid-like layout compartmentalizes cities within the city, rather than promoting a single space. Double decker freeways operate like arteries; literal lifelines connecting drivers from one end of the grid to the next. In this literal divide marked by concrete and asphalt, areas are established within areas thus the dynamism that is the LA art scene. New York City has Chelsea, Paris has the Pompidou but in Los Angeles there is no single area that serves a nucleus for the art world, rather there is a continuous connective tissue that runs throughout the parallel boulevards enlivening the East Wilshire Corridor, Downtown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, and Venice. Davis continues that although its design may be fragmented its vision is not; "Compared to other great cities, Los Angeles may be planned or designed in a very fragmentary sense (primarily at the level of infrastructure) but it is infinitely envisioned." LA wasn't built, it was seen and "envisioned" to the point where the cities nearly 500 square miles have become a desired art capital sought after by European artists who want to be represented here, and Angelinos who hope to show their work abroad.
Such is the case for Los Angeles based artist Steve Galloway whose native LA is the springboard into the International marketplace and Parisian Christophe Leroux who sees LA as the destination. For both artists, however, LA is the cornerstone for their careers.
Steve Galloway's show "Ephemeroptera: Short-Lived with Wings" opened on May 12 2009 at the Rose Gallery in Bergamot Station. In addition to the Rose Gallery, Galloway is also represented by Galerie Eric Mircher in Paris. A recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Drawing in 1987, Galloway's art practice includes drawings on paper and canvas with charcoal, pastel, and pencil. The shows title ephemeroptera also refers to the short life span of the adult mayfly, which only lasts from thirty minutes to one day depending on the species. Perhaps the brief life of the mayfly is meant for us to consider a compromised lifespan of the adult imagination. "Mayfly" presents a desolate wood cabin, absent of any vestige of its inhabitants. The cabin is surrounded by lush foliage, concealed in the thick of night. An ominous light pours across the porch while a monolith levitates overhead. A mayfly is caught in the frame of the mysterious plinth as if trapped in time, its wings still in tact and thereby sustaining its life. Initially obscured by the rich detail of the small house, the presence of the mayfly is nearly missed entirely then quickly becomes the focus of the work. "Mayfly" is just one instance where Galloway presents seemingly predictable environments but as they unravel new images and associations begin to appear.
Christophe Leroux is represented by George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles and SLG Gallery in Paris. Leroux's solo show Paris at J&T Montes Galerie "Traces" in April coincided with his opening at George Billis Gallery -- the shows were only two weeks apart. "Traces" introduces a large body of new works from Leroux including froissées, peintures (oil on canvas with Leroux's burn technique), oil on paper with burns and gravure (engravings on zinc paper). The title of the show "Trace" adds another layer of double entendre to Leroux that is already present in the works. In English "trace" means to draw, tracer, and has the implication of following the line of something that has already existed. In French however "trace" is a trail, a mark, or impression. Therefore it is a line that's drawn and does not refer to the act of "tracing" but to follow in the tracks. To "trace" reiterates Leroux's process of creating letters and numbers with stencils and refers to his aesthetic of "following in the path" of urbanity with the influence of graffiti, signage, and chrome trucks. Furthermore Leroux's tendency to incorporate English words into his works rather than French words, comments on urbanization. Leroux suggests, "What I do is very industrial and where we live is urbanization so I really think it's interesting to mix the French and English- French here in the States and English in France because it's really a reflect of globalization. Like those people speak English now in Paris, like ten years ago no one. And now I swear in cafes the guys speak English and also the artist is the reflect of the society."
AM: In my reportage visiting galleries and speaking with other artists, I can't help but feel there is electricity surrounding the LA art scene right now. You graduated from CAL arts in 1974. I'm curious if you have noticed any changes in the art world from the 70's to now?
Steve Galloway: I've been around most of my life in LA and I certainly remember in my early college days going to La Cienega Boulevard, that was the extent of it. There were maybe 4 or 5 galleries and maybe a few others sprinkled around. You could probably count 10, 12 at the time. Now it's 10 or 20 times that number. New York is still much more effective and better located than LA is, but there's so many talented people in LA and there's so much good work being made and the art schools here seem to churn out an awful lot of good young people all the time.
AM: Europe has always been a romanticized place for artists and writers. What is the art scene like in Paris currently?
Christophe Leroux: It is an amazing time to be an artist in Paris in the last few years. The contemporary art scene has again found its place in Paris and the galleries' collectors are very international. With SLG my work is on the European scene and with George Billis I am in the US and international scene.
AM: What made you decide to go to Paris?
Steve Galloway: The experience over there was something I always wanted as far as the content of my work. I just felt that I possibly might have an audience over there.
AM: You signed with Eric Mircher in 2006. Describe your experience of being an American in Paris?
Steve Galloway: We're also talking about 2006 when George W. Bush was absolutely at his lowest point as far as his relationship to Europe and their opinions of him. And you don't want to say you're an American running around Paris. They would always introduce me as a Californian, which was much more exotic.
AM: George Billis Gallery has represented you in Los Angeles for the past four years. What has your experience been?
Christophe Leroux: It is a true pleasure to work a gallery that has such a great reputation for discovering new talent. George Billis Gallery is always an important presence at international and US art fairs. I feel this is essential for the artist's career. I am excited to know that my art may hang in New York, LA, Miami and other great cities around the world thanks to the work George Billis Gallery does.
AM: What differences, if any do you perceive between the American and the European collector?
Christophe Leroux: I feel the biggest difference may be that the European collector needs more time and references to buy contemporary art, whereas the American collector is less shy and more willing to trust his or her own instinct and purchase the most original and contemporary art without all the historical references.
Steve Galloway: Americans come in and they look at something and very quickly they decide they want to buy it. The French come in and they want to think about it, they go back, maybe they have dinner, they come back in a couple of weeks, something like that. I don't know if that necessarily rung true, I suppose I noticed it over time. Whether Americans simply act faster and don't necessarily digest the work and just react to it immediately and pounce on it out of competitive urges that they live through, or the French are simply more contemplative and slower.
Christophe Leroux: In Paris the private collector is as important as the corporate collector. In the US the private collector has a much bigger presence in the art world as opposed to the corporate collector.
AM: Did you have any strange encounters with potential buyers?
Steve Galloway: The woman sounded really excited and she said 'I love your work,' and I said 'oh that's great,' and we talked for a moment and she said, 'I really like these paintings, how much is this?' I didn't know so I asked the dealer and it was probably too much for at the time and then she said to me, 'it's too bad you're an American,' and I didn't know how to take it.'