Annie Lapin at LA Louver- Art Works (September 2009)
Before meeting Los Angeles based Annie Lapin I couldn’t help but detect an underlying degree of violence in works that hid behind layers of paint applied with thick brushstrokes. Even as I paced the gallery waiting for her to arrive I encountered several of her smaller works with transient figures receding from the background to the foreground, as if engaged in a tug of war. You could imagine my surprise when she entered Angles Gallery in Santa Monica, no less than ten years older than myself; she is a petite and delicate woman with dark eyes, a clear complexion, and dirty blond hair. Finally we meet after weeks of scheduling complicated by her move to her new studio. I usually insist on interviewing artists in their studios but Lapin felt uncomfortable inviting me to an empty and dark garage. Her studio practice is divided between her home garage and a shared studio space downtown. She reveals “in my garage at home I tinker and do more experimental things, playing with paint and construction of objects. My studio away from home is huge, full of light and in a large building with other artists. The space at home is like an incubator and the space in the studio downtown is why my ideas reach the light… literally and figuratively because my studio at home is dark and no one ever sees the work I am doing there until I take it to my studio downtown.” It’s possible that there really was no work for Lapin to show me in her garage, or perhaps she did not want to invite this reporter into to her creative sanctuary. A gallery assistant greets Lapin and shows us to a warehouse style office with concrete slab floors, minimal amounts of furniture, and exposed wood beams. We are seated across from each other in wicker chairs and Lapin immediately opens her Mac Book Pro, which has a missing key and pulls up a comprehensive catalogue of her images. I am afraid to move, let alone breathe as my chair creaks with my every move. Lapin however appears serene sitting upright at the front of her chair. She seems at peace in Angles Gallery, as this is where she got her first break. Aside from the gallery assistant who occasionally stops in to refill our cups of water, we are alone in the gallery.
At only thirty years old Lapin has already emerged as one of the top young artists in a city filled with them. She has been featured in several group shows this summer spotlighting her work which expresses her interest in post-feminism as well as her desire to challenge viewers perceptions through the use of fractured and tentative brushstrokes. Her oil on linen piece “Feel” is featured in Honor Fraser’s annual summer group show Bitch is the New Black. Curated by Emma Gray the show includes works by 14 Los Angeles-based women artists both emerging and established, including one of Lapin’s former teachers at UCLA, Cathie Opie. When teacher and student worked together Lapin expressed Opie’s input, “namely her recognition of the importance of painted photographic iconography and spatial constructions in my work.” Regretful that she did not spend more time under Opie’s tuttalege, Lapin mentions that other professors at UCLA played a crucial role in the artists development, Mary Kelly, Lari Pittman, and Charlie Ray. Lapin’s sphere of influence is made apparent as her work presents the distinct marriage of Opie’s radical aesthetic and the academic roots of her Kelly, Pittman, and Ray. Bitch is the New Black reunites Opie and Lapin not as student and teacher but as contemporaries.
Lapin also has two paintings in Rogue Wave ’09, the annual group show at LA Louver showcasing ten Los Angeles artists, but perhaps her most ambitious project of the summer is “Parallel Deliria Iteration,” a three-dimensional model of Lapin’s artistic process of construction and destruction. Using the architecture that already existed in the room with exposed PVC, electrical pipes, plumbing, and bricks, Lapin adorned the space with recyled items from her own studio and speciclaity paper that is durable and suitable for traveling from her studio to the Museum space. While looking at the photographs of Parellel Deliria Iteration, Lapin begins to smile reminiscing on the long hours she spent in that single room. “It was exhausting,” she admits and “I did for a month everyday straight.” Using the same practice employed in her paintings, Lapin completed one set up of twinkle lights, tool fabric, and paper and then “I destroyed it and then I cut it up some more so this might have been a landscape that a made a little more sense. Then I cut it up and rearranged and I did all this stuff to continue to the obfscucation of the image.” Free to walk through the entire installation and were encouraged to interact with the objects. Parallel Deliria Iteration operated on three levels. First it acted as an expirement for the artist to bring the unexpected and multifaceted quality of her paintings into a three- dimensional room that forces viewers to confront the process of painting. Secondly the space existed in a constant state of flux because the presence of visitor’s changes the arrangement of the objects. Finally Lapin created the project on a limited budget, which determined the use of paper. Despite this however the photographs rendered a fantastical wonderland that exhibited the artist’s imagination and will to present a once two- dimensional surface in an overwhelming space. Lapin continues to suggest that the project was “so hard. I’ve only done it twice but when I did it the first time I said ‘I will never do that again,’ but then a year later I did again and even though I think I will never do it again, I’m sure I will,” she remarks with a smile.
Lapin has been on the “artists to watch list” for quite some time. Even before Lapin had completed her MFA at UCLA in 2007, David McAuliffe owner and director of Angles Gallery was in Lapin’s studio collecting works to appear in shows. Lapin insists there was no formal discussion about showing her work full time until she completed her graduate work, but in 2008, only one year out of graduate school, Lapin had her first solo show with Angles Gallery called Gruppology. Only two years out of UCLA Lapin has two solo shows and two group shows under her belt.
Her body of work juxtaposes theories from academia and a desire to “challenge the process of cognition.” As an undergraduate student at Yale Lapin first decided to major in archaeology and art history but “began to kind of see academics as another form of self expression which allowed me to see art making as equally valid. I was very academic oriented going into college and then I started to lose interest in it when I started to see that it wasn’t the bet way for me to communicate my ideas.” And those ideas include an interest in post-feminism and all the issues that go with it, and it shows up in her work through the creation of indeterminate figures whose faces are at once androgynous and deprived of detail. The purposeful removal of the gender distinction is part of Lapin’s insistence on a “slow development when the viewer encounters the work so that the figures do not have a hit-you-in-the-face identity.” The gender of the figures changes as the viewer takes more inventory of the canvas. The interaction between the background and the foreground can change the identity of a subject who at one moment looks female and the next male.
Although the subjects of her work such as “Tag Team Begetting and Forgetting” are designed to get the viewer to reconsider certain social mores like team culture, Lapin makes clear that she is not “trying to challenge the social consciousness. I don’t make paintings with the aim of making any kind of political statement. The only legitimate claim that paintings challenge anything would be to say that they might challenge the process of cognition and that is what I try to exploit as much as possible.”
Her process is one of construction and deconstruction. Lapin “builds it up to a point where it might get finished and break it down.” The act of creating and destroying and then creating again on the same surface demonstrates the artist’s desire to barely recognize the work itself. Lapin continues to explain, “reformulating the entire experience of painting is another thing that I’ve been thinking about.” Her outlook is influenced by “anxiety, certain of nothing, suspicious of even those axiomatic truths- an outgrowth of some childhood trauma I guess, but who knows what it was.”
Getting the chance to speak with her at Angles Gallery proved to be as intimate as any studio space. Before Lapin had completed her MFA at UCLA in 2007, David McAuliffe owner and director of Angles Gallery entered Lapin’s studio and began selecting works to appear in shows. According to Lapin there was no formal discussion about showing her work full time until she completed her MFA. In 2008, only one year out of graduate school Lapin’s had her first solo show with Angles Gallery called Gruppology. Only two years out of UCLA Lapin has two solo shows and two group shows under her belt.
To challenge the work Lapin makes the first iteration of the work on the canvas and “builds it up to a point where it might get finished and break it down.” The act of creating and destroying and then creating again on the same surface demonstrates the artist’s desire to barely recognize the work itself. Lapin continues to explain, “reformulating the entire experience of painting is another thing that I’ve been thinking about.” Her outlook is informed by “anxiety, certain of nothing, suspicious of even the most axiomatic truths- an outgrowth of some childhood trauma I guess, but who knows what it was.”
A common theme presented in many of Lapin’s works is the objectification of the female, but she insists there is no political or social agenda at work. She great sensitivity to the “objectification of any person whether power politics or colonial, racist, sexist, or classicist. However I will almost never use painting as platform to express my daily outrage with this or that social ill.” While perhaps not a platform, Lapin’s work is clearly a reflection of the shared female experience in a post-feminist culture. In the painting titled “Perverts” which in and of itself suggests powerful imager, Lapin uses a gaze- the way a man surveys a woman- to explore the power relation between the two. The “structure of our culture just happens to objectify women by default, and so I enjoy picking it apart on a visual level. I am more invested perhaps because I am a woman, I suppose. Maybe men aren’t aware of power relations that takes place in the gaze.”
“Perverts” was inspired by Eduard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe” depicts an idyllic, classical female nude whose incandescent form poses in a powder blue blanket. Although her right knee is it does not conceal her breast and she looks over her shoulder to confront the viewer’s gaze with a mild suggestion of surprise. She is flanked by two men both fully dressed in three-piece suits. In the background a second woman basks in a ray of sunlight performing an idyl The reason for her presence is uncertain but Manet intended for her to be surveyed as well. As the title suggests they are having lunch on the grass but the picnic basket is positioned in the foreground and out of the figures’ reach. Therefore the women become the item of consumption and are the subject of the gaze both the viewer in addition to the male figures. The men do not acknowledge the viewer and that is precisely because they don’t need to. The male surveys while the female is surveyed.
Lapin was interested in “taking an image that’s very well known and stuck in our mind and playing with it on some level, even in an abstract way.” “Perverts,” signals her ability to turn an image cemented in our social consciousness, turn it on its head and create something entirely new. The absence of the dadys was purposefull and meant to “see how that would change the meaning of the piece.” A classical nude type sits in the same pose on the grass as Manet’s model, with her right knee bent while seated on a blue blanket. The nude does not stare back at us because her face has been completely obscured by thick and violent brushstrokes, which leave a primitive rendering of an eye in profile and exaggerated lips. Trails of red paint fly off the woman’s head reminiscent of blood and it could be argued that they represent a figurative death to the objectified woman and a desire to reclaim her.
Annie Lapin moved to Los Angeles to pursue her MFA at UCLA and has been greeted with much success as an emerging artist. Although she looks to academia to supply rich context, drifting through the streets of Los Angeles has provided her with a new source of inspiration. A native from Washington DC, enjoys getting lost in the streets of the city that she now calls home. “Los Angeles is so spread out, so superficial in some ways and so deeply wounded in other ways. But even those wounds have been depicted and mythologized in a way that sometimes deflects honest assessment.” These wounds are also a source of endless fascination as Lapin enjoys watching people and how the interact in an urban environment lush with illusive imagery and paradoxes. Wandering parts of the city that Lapin does not know “feeds my desire to create objects whose meanings are constantly disintegrating and appear to fly away, just as they hint at something much deeper and unknown.”