WALLS: A quest for immersive space in DTLA’s newest collaborative studio/project, PRODUCE HAUS

03/18/2017 02:03 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2017
PRODUCE HAUS: KuBO, Zadik Zadikian, Zadik Zadikian (L to R)
PRODUCE HAUS: KuBO, Zadik Zadikian, Zadik Zadikian (L to R)

Los Angeles -- especially its messy, majestic, monumentally vintage industrial Downtown -- is peppered with crazy hidden architectural gems and artists and galleries making eccentric, innovative use of the least likely of places. Old distilleries, half a shirt factory, empty storefronts, auto garages, old banks… For a first-rate example consider the case of sculptor and installation artist Zadik Zadikian, who for several years has operated his studio on the second story of the 7th Street Produce Market, a fully occupied and functional vegetable-strewn walled courtyard the size of a city block, built in 1918 and still the site of the west coast’s longest contiguous corridor, hectic daily from predawn to mid-afternoon and then silent. It’s random as hell, but he’s got 60-foot long walls, huge windows with commanding views to the east and west, and absolute freedom.

7th Street Produce Market, courtyard view
7th Street Produce Market, courtyard view

Known for his extensive use of gold and other metal leaf to create surfaces that are aesthetically, conceptually, and even politically charged, Zadikian’s presence at the Produce Market has also manifested a sort of revisiting of his 1975 NYC “Gold Spaces” projects undertaken at PS1 and his Jay Street studio, wherein he gives the whole of the interior an impossibly lavish, sensual, otherworldly gold skin of fluttering leaf. It takes forever, advancing through the space like a fairy-dust glacier, wrapping every nook and pipe and brick and cornice in its fluttering, flirty, rococo embrace. The intention and effect are sincerely, ironically Baroque; satirically anti-oligarchical in the spirit of Ai Weiwei’s Gold Zodiac; piously critical of religion’s excess of wealth in the way of Warhol’s Gold Marilyn, diamond dust, and money paintings; and luxuriously Zen in a materialist, experiential, ever-changing visual paradox. It is an ephemeral temple of transient timelessness, with an elemental purity and an alchemical ambition.

Zadik Zadikian’s Gold Space at PS1 (1975)
Zadik Zadikian’s Gold Space at PS1 (1975)
Zadik Zadikian in the studio (2017)
Zadik Zadikian in the studio (2017)

For Zadikian, gold paint and especially gold leaf is not an imitation or an image, it is something more direct. Both natural and unnatural, its rough edges are constantly animated by the slightest breeze and shifting ambient light. It speaks to eternity, but it changes every day as the patination of its copper oxidizes and slowly turns blue-black. And gold forms are also about surface, in that the light catches every nook, every so-called imperfection in its skin. As a formal choice, this is a flaw that Zadikian sees as a feature, creating subversion, drama, and passion in the dissonance. Besides the walls, the studio hosts a glimmering meteor shower of 1000s of gilded sculptures, peppered across a large central wall, contoured like geological faces, ranging in scale from quite large to as small as one quarter of an inch. Again inspired by the collaborative central hub his NYC studio had been, earlier this year, Zadikian invited two artists -- Kaloust Guedel and KuBO -- to augment his studio work with architectural innovations of their own -- to rather epic result.

KuBO at PRODUCE HAUS
KuBO at PRODUCE HAUS
PRODUCE HAUS: Kaloust Guedel, KuBO, Zadik Zadikian (L to R)
PRODUCE HAUS: Kaloust Guedel, KuBO, Zadik Zadikian (L to R)

Like Zadikian, KuBO applies his own signature style of compounded gossamer opalescence directly to the studio’s long, windowed walls. Instead of gilding, imagine a frost of atmospheric abalone, punctuated by the variable sky, cloud cover, sunset operas, and near-distant skyscrapers of the Historic Core. Also like Zadikian, this work takes a lot of time and diffuse focus to generate, a steady-on meditation, and is in its effect and affect too, a hybrid of nature and artifice -- their pairing a pas-de-deux of summer and winter majesty. Guedel for his part, also shares much with his host -- in sensibility and intent if not always in materials (though he’s been known to deploy his share of precious metal pigment too). For PRODUCE HAUS, he festooned a full wall with a pronouncement of bright color, crisp rhomboids, and a billowing surface of industrial plastic that both refracts and interrupts the goings on of the paintings behind it. It is a surface that is not a barrier, it moves and reflects, generating a maximalist experience out of a profusion of minimalist gestures. As the founder of a visual art movement called Excessivism, he too is involved with a kind of ironical luxe, in which the beauty of too-muchness is both attractive and satirical, a comment on our culture of excess generally expressed through the perspective of a painter.

Kaloust Guedel at PRODUCE HAUS
Kaloust Guedel at PRODUCE HAUS
Kaloust Guedel at PRODUCE HAUS (section detail)
Kaloust Guedel at PRODUCE HAUS (section detail)

“I left the USSR 50 years ago,” shares Zadikian. “We went through Turkey, mostly on foot. Five of us set out, only 2 made it.” Lately he has been feeling the desire to reconstitute a crew for himself, operating as he now does along wholly other kinds of borders. “This project studio can start to make a difference here in LA,” he says, by promoting constant growth inside a working studio. Not quite a co-op or collective, operating outside the commercial but yet emboldening a revolution which may well include a new financial model, and with an empathetic camaraderie that is not quite a literal collaboration -- as each guest artist retains their individual voice and works site-responsively in their own methods. This new endeavor officially opens at the end of April, with expanded iterations of Zadikian, Guedel, and KuBO’s extant installations and the invitation of a half dozen new artists. In the perfect nod to both location and intention, the space will be thus christened, PRODUCE HAUS.

Zadikian’s gilded floor
Zadikian’s gilded floor

Zadikian has been working on gilding the floor and, the stairs leading up to the main space -- both areas which will now hosts works and installations -- while both KuBO and Kaloust are adding to their own installations with more detail and mass. In April, these five painters and one documentary filmmaker capturing it all will unveil the results of their own architectural call-and-response: Rouzanna Berberian, Gary Brewer, Clayton Campbell, Yvette Gellis, Gary Paller, and filmmaker Corey S. Burns. Continuing her interest in tech-based abstractions, Berberian’s inspiration comes from things like circuit boards and RFID tags as well as art historical legacies of slick 70s-era pop minimalism -- forming a social commentary on technology's effect on modern society through analog, sometimes directly muralized, large scale works. Photographer and semantic subversive Clayton Campbell is doing an installation of large photos and text, entitled Words We Have Learned Since 11/8 (the date of the 2016 election), which is a new variation on his long-standing project Words We Have Learned Since 9/11. Think about phrases like “alternative facts, fake news, tweetstorm, pussy-grabber, alt-right, etc. “I'll be adding words as I learn more,” says Campbell, “or people suggest more. There will be a place where they can write them down, and I will put them into the installation as it stays up over the months.”

Clayton Campbell
Clayton Campbell
Gary Paller, study for stairwell at PRODUCE HAUS
Gary Paller, study for stairwell at PRODUCE HAUS

Gary Paller is also working on an installation in the wide, tall stairwell. The piece is composed of 48 sheets of plexiglass painted on the reverse with vivid acrylic, installed in an angular upward cascade on the wall above the steps and along the banister, echoing the 24 steps up, reminiscent of accent tiling. “The manner in which these paintings are made follows the most recent direction of my works on canvas,” notes Paller, “where my work is very much about with color, space, and transparency, as I layer lines and forms over each other to achieve my desired goals of light and space. The idea of the "tile" wall was presented to me by Zadik. I have never painted on plexiglass before, but it is a material I am very familiar with, as I was a studio assistant for Vasa in the mid-seventies. Curiously enough, my recent paintings do relate to the pieces I helped build for Vasa more than 40 years ago, and now here I am painting on plexiglass!”

Yvette Gellis, study for PRODUCE HAUS
Yvette Gellis, study for PRODUCE HAUS

Yvette Gellis like Guedel frequently uses plastic and sculptural dimensionality to augment and spatialize her paintings, and like many of the invited artists, is going big -- 9 x 14 feet. She is deploying a grid to the floor which will continue onto the walls, expanding the painting into the architecture and refracting ambient light from multiple perspectives, almost to where the viewer feels like they are entering into the work. Gary Brewer is going big, too, executing two very large (11-foot tall) paintings to fill two narrow floor-to-ceiling spaces up the stairway, as well as a third 5-foot square for another spot, and Zadikian has added his signature gold leaf to their depths -- all designed so that the area becomes a unified whole. Brewer’s obsession with organic amorphous forms is an unexpected counterpart to much of the more architectural, angular works, and yet in his signature biomorphic style, replicates Zadikian’s original paradox of nature/un-nature. “It was a pleasure to be invited by Zadik to add something to this fusion of art and architecture,” says Brewer, “and I’ve been inspired by these passages which have a cool flame and smoke-like diaphanous aspect and always move upward, in an ascension of form, freely abstracted from NASA modeling of dark matter, mystery upon mystery in the depiction of that which is imperceptible.”

Gary Brewer from Dark Matter series, 2017
Gary Brewer from Dark Matter series, 2017

THURSDAY, APRIL 27, 7-10PM

1318 E. 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90021

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