02/13/2013 04:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jonathan Wateridge, British Painter, Talks Los Angeles, Gerhard Richter and Diego Velázquez


(Boy on Wall, by Jonathan Wateridge. Oil on linen Photo courtesy of L&M Arts/Fredrik Nilsen)

Realist paintings in Los Angeles are a hard sell these days. More often than not, abstract, street, and nouveau surrealism seem to be the norm along the corridors of La Cienega and Washington Boulevards. So the fact that L&M Gallery decided to go with a realist painter -- let alone an artist with virtually no reach in the American market -- seemed like it could be not only a critical risk, but a financial one as well.

But British painter Jonathan Wateridge -- despite initially walking away from painting for nearly 15 years -- has in a few short years earned quite a following, with names like Saatchi, Olbricht and Taschen as collectors. Then in 2011, Francois Pinault (who originally saw the artist's work at All Visual Arts in a group show in 2009) together with his curator, Caroline Bourgeois, bought a series of Wateridge works (Another Place) and showed them at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, a move that made Wateridge an international sensation.

Now Hollywood will get its chance with Inter + Vista, his inaugural exhibition at L&M in Los Angeles. With this body of work, the artist divides the two galleries into distinct groupings of contemporary life: In the West Gallery, one will find his more formal and structured works, like Boy on Wall, while in the East gallery, his more ethereal, organic works come together with an almost pathologically quiet sensibility. (One painting in particular, Fog, is reminiscent of Peter Weir's film, Picnic at Hanging Rock). Art collector Kay Saatchi, who has been a fan of Wateridge's work for years, was on hand at the opening night of his California debut: "This is a museum quality exhibition [at L&M] and not to be missed. Especially if you're worried about the death of painting; Wateridge truly brings paint to life."


(Fog by Jonathan Wateridge. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of L&M Arts/Fredrik Nilsen)

Here the artist spoke briefly about some of his influences, and the city -- which he's only visiting at the moment -- he'd like to call home... at least for a little while to get away from that abject London frost.


In the past, Wateridge was creating a lot of night scenes, which were particularly prevalent in two series of works from 2009 and 2010, respectively. (See a sample work from 2010 below entitled, Pool Party) Yet for Inter + Vista, he chose specifically not to go that route -- it was an aesthetic edge he wanted to get away from. "Night or darkness creates a sense of insecurity, doubt, of the unknown -- all of which felt useful to those paintings," muses the artist.


(Pool Party, 2010 by Jonathan Wateridge. Oil on linen. Courtesy of All Visual Arts/London)

"There was also the practicality of it all being set up indoors in my studio with a pretty small budget when it comes to lighting. With not much light available, it was a decision based on necessity as much as anything else." The artist is not altogether comfortable these days with the inherent drama his night scenes created. "A fair few people started making allusions to Gregory Crewdson after those paintings were made. [But] Crewdson's photographs leave me very cold and I'm relieved to have moved away from that vibe with this current show."


For Wateridge, admiration and influence are two separate camps. While he admires the likes of John Currin and Michaël Borremans, they don't necessarily actively appear on his radar while he's in studio. "Richter is one of my favorite painters too, but again, he's such a colossus and has been so thoroughly explored that I'm always wary of straying into his territory," said Wateridge. "For me, Richter's influence is ultimately one of 'possibility'. He has opened up so much space and freed so many subsequent painters by making works that 40 years ago one might have thought were conceptual no go areas. In a very important sense he made it okay to paint again."

In terms of influences, Wateridge always finds himself going to back to the artists he feels, did it best. "I'm particularly keen on Manet, (mid career) Degas, Goya, Rembrandt and Titian. Not to mention Piero, Giorgione and so many more. And of course, Velázquez, Velázquez and Velázquez!" Kay Saatchi says she too spots a Velazquezian kinship in his work. "His breathtaking technical skill reminds one of the Spanish painter; his psychological perception of modern life is both alarming and sensitive."

Ultimately, for Wateridge the most important present day influences come from learning what other disciplines might be able to inject into the practice of making a realist painting. "Contemporary photography and cinema have often proved to be much more integral to my thinking than other painters. Jeff Wall is undoubtedly an artist from whom I've learned a great deal; and in cinema among others, Michelangelo Antonioni and David Lynch."


Aesthetically, Wateridge feels a great affinity with Los Angeles at large. Ironically, he painted the city at one point, even before he had set foot in it. "The elements I've found most fascinating since coming here for the first time are, inevitably perhaps, very different to the fictionalized, generic version of L.A. previously available to me only through films and books. It is a city claimed, indeed perhaps ultimately only borrowed, from a natural wilderness. You get a sense of its construction at every level. The intersection of concrete with vegetation that occurs in many various forms throughout L.A., I find particularly beautiful even though it occurs in quite a brutalist (architecturally speaking) manner at times. On the whole, though, the reality of the city provides a far more prosaic view than its fictionalized version but I much prefer it that way. There's something very poetic about the mundane."

Inter + Vista by Jonathan Wateridge is on display at L&M Arts through March 2nd, 2013.