Artists Habitat

L.A. Habitat: Diana Thater

Diana Thater at her Highland Park studio on December 12, 2015. ©KATHERINE MCMAHON

Diana Thater at her Highland Park studio on December 12, 2015.


L.A. Habitat is a weekly series that visits with 16 artists in their workspaces around the city.

This week’s studio: Diana Thater; Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Diana Thater shares her Highland Park studio with her husband, T. Kelly Mason, a sculptor and musician. Thater is a New York native, who moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to attend grad school at the Art Center in Pasadena. She’s lived on the West Coast ever since. “I didn’t want to go back to New York. All my peers were in L.A.,” she told me on a visit to her studio last December.

Thater’s video and installation work frequently explores how humans interact with the natural world, but, she said, “Even though my work is all about nature, I’m not a nature girl.” I met with Thater on a Saturday afternoon, and she was just returning from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, host of the most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date, The Sympathetic Imagination, on view through April 17. The exhibition will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in October 2016.

Thater led me around her studio, which she lives above. She swooped up her cat Augie into her arms. (“I have three more upstairs,” she said, but Augie “lives in the studio. He patrols and oversees everything.”) Situated near the shelves of boxes that make up Thater’s archive is her husband’s drum kit and keyboard. “When I want to work with sound and he wants to work with video, we’ll collaborate,” she said, mentioning the piece they made together for the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Called Jump, the video features 20 children jumping rope as a band performs Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

The couple’s space is filled with classic-rock posters. “Bob Dylan is my hero,” Thater said. “I’ve seen him over 50 times.” A recently released Dylan bootleg helped her get through the frustrating commute to LACMA when she started installing her show, but she prefers complete silence in the studio. “I can’t listen to music,” she said. “It influences the rhythm of the work, and you don’t want to start unconsciously editing to the music. I need it quiet.”

For years there’s been an ongoing conversation about the cultural exchange between New York and L.A., one that the media often casts as a competition between which city is better for artists. As an early East Coast transplant to California, Thater is somewhat ambivalent about all this.”There have always been a lot of artists here,” she said. “Now we’re getting all these New Yorkers moving in, and I don’t think they know what they’re in for. It’s not even comparable. Housing is not as cheap as everyone thinks it is. The artists who have big industrial spaces are making good money.”

There is, however, one area in which New York has L.A. beat: “Light here is so much different then New York,” Thater said. “New York light is bluer. I like it better, actually.”

Below a look at Thater’s space in Highland Park.


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