Artists Habitat

L.A. Habitat: Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson in her Koreatown studio. ©KATHERINE MCMAHON

Kaari Upson in her Koreatown studio.


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

This week’s studio: Kaari Upson; Koreatown, Los Angeles. Last December, I visited Kaari Upson’s spacious studio, which is located on an unassuming block in Koreatown. At the time, the artist was hard at work preparing sculptures for an upcoming group show, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women 1947–2016,” which opened at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in March. The studio space is situated between an office in the front and an outdoor area in the back, where recycled couches and sectionals are piled on top of each other. Upson has included domestic objects in her work for a while, most notably in “The Larry Project,” which she began in 2007. The ongoing series was inspired by her parents’ neighbor, whose house was decimated in a wildfire. Upson uses actual possessions she salvaged from the fire in her work, which explores the neighbor’s house and the objects it once contained. “That house, and re-creating the internal pockets inside the house, became a forefront,” she told me. “I was always very interested in the domestic.”

Kaari Upson, Left Brace Erase, Back Brace Face, 2016, which appears in 'Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016' at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles.COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER WIRTH & SCHIMMEL

Kaari Upson, Left Brace Erase, Back Brace Face, 2016, which appears in ‘Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016’ at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles.


At the time, Upson was working on trashcan molds to be displayed in the Hauser show. “I’ll think about the architecture of the space and then think about how they can be formed, because they are endlessly mutable,” she said. “There can be two of them incorporated, leaning against themselves. Or I can make one, make it hard, and make the other one off of it, which would then push a new negative space into it.” Upson’s studio practice includes sculpture, painting, drawing, and video, though she told me that the different mediums all inform each other in some way. “These are sculptures, for example, but when I make them, they end up being quite painterly.”

In addition to work that she’s actively creating, the studio houses many pieces that seem to be in a state of indefinite gestation. “I don’t throw anything out. Sometimes sculptures end up totally ordinary and I don’t know what to do with them. I keep a stack of the ones that become ordinary, and sometimes I’ll revisit one a year later and realize that I was seeing it wrong.”

Upson received her B.F.A. from CalArts in 2007 and currently lives in Los Angeles, though she owns a place in New York as well. I asked her what it was like living on the West Coast now. “I’ve never seen so many people want to live here and not New York. But I don’t have much to say about L.A.’s new development,” she said. “There is one sad thing, though. I’m not part of the old generation romanticizing the old days, but there was nothing like working when nobody was looking. There used to be nobody in the studio. It would just be me making decisions. A lot of artists were in L.A. because no one was hovering over us. It was entirely different. Thank God I didn’t put myself out there, because people very quickly want to define you. I want to make work that confuses people.”

Below, a look around Upson’s Koreatown studio.


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