In a previous issue of ARTnews, critic Kavior Moon praised the fourth edition of the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. biennial, which closed in September, for refusing to define a “Los Angeles aesthetic.” Instead, that exhibition favored the multiplicity of perspectives the city has long celebrated. With that spirit in mind, we have assembled a list of 15 of L.A.’s most perceptive and probing artists. Working in a variety of mediums from painting and archival projects to performance and textiles, they exemplify the diverse sensibilities and identities that make up the city’s art scene. Only four of them were born in L.A., a sign perhaps of the welcoming nature of a city that continues to lure creators despite the rising price of real estate. Nearly all are artists of color, an indication of the crucial role African-American, Asian, and Latinx communities have played in L.A.’s art history.
Born in 1981, Guadalajara, Mexico
In 2010 Carmen Argote transplanted carpeting from her childhood home to Los Angeles Gallery G727. Titled 720 sq. ft.: Household Mutations, the work resembles a white Minimalist sculpture. “My practice involves staying in a place for a long period of time so I can understand and feel the architecture,” said Argote, for whom built spaces are “more than just structures.” Her chief interest is in “the psychological impact of the building on how I’m feeling or how I see myself.”
Recent works include a re-created industrial filtration system from Lincoln Park draped with a striped abstract painting, and a performance for which Argote taught herself to ride a Moto Guzzi motorcycle in homage to her father, who departed L.A. for Mexico on one nearly 20 years ago, leaving Argote and the rest of her family behind.
Born in 1972, Los Angeles, California
For the recent Pacific Standard Time Festival: Live Art LA/LA, Raul Baltazar staged Mi Sereno: Two Ritual Performances Honoring Our Past, Present, and Future Generations, a two-part performance meant to encourage intergenerational dialogue through its procession up and down Ascot Hills Park; it ended with a communal meal, which served as an offering to sacred spaces.
A multidisciplinary artist who also works in painting, sculpture, collage, film, and public art, Baltazar emerged from the scene around the Public Resource Center/Centro de Regeneración, a revolution-minded enterprise founded by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Zack de la Rocha in the 1990s.
Performance work is for when he’s ready “to go out to the public and communicate,” Baltazar said—whereas sculpture becomes an extension of his body, and video functions as “today’s muralism.” “I’m interested in a bottom-up perspective and gaze, using what’s available. It’s about the story in the end.”
Born in 1983, No Water Mesa, Arizona
Melissa Cody is a fourth-generation Navajo weaver and textile artist who melds traditional imagery and symbols with contemporary aesthetics and poetic texts. She spent much of her life on Navajo land in northern Arizona before moving to Los Angeles in 2013 with her partner, whose death shortly thereafter led her to take a break from weaving.
When she was ready to return to the loom, Cody began to incorporate text into her woven pieces as a way to process her loss and to reflect on the historical displacement of her people. One piece reads, “Invisible tears in my eyes / Incredible pain in my heart / Indestructible memories all in review / Impossible though things may get / Improbable I will forget. . . .”
“My work became not only a voice for me to speak about my personal feelings but also to speak on a larger platform about what a lot of other people are affected by,” Cody said. “Understanding that my work had a purpose is where the drive and energy came from.”
Born in 1987, Oakland, California
Painter Janiva Ellis’s surreal tableaux often fix on figures with tensely contorted faces that look as if they are decomposing. Their features—angry mouths, see-through noses—seem to morph before a viewer’s eyes. In Something Anxiety (2017), ghostly visages are superimposed over a scene from The Wiz, with action that comes across as both kinetic and creepy. For Ellis, these works—which sometimes lift imagery from mass media, such as a picture of Daffy Duck’s exploded head—are playful and eerie at once.
Ellis said that such strange visions represent “the multiplicity that occurs when we juggle who we are, how we feel, and how we are perceived.” Her paintings engage “unspoken tensions” that “when not addressed, have a tendency to fester.”
David Burns: Born in 1970, Los Angeles, California
Austin Young: Born in 1966, Reno, Nevada
In the eyes of Fallen Fruit—aka artists David Burns and Austin Young—everyone in the world is connected by produce. “It crosses every cultural boundary on the planet—it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, everyone still eats the same banana,” said Burns. The duo’s work has consistently taken fruit as a subject for serious inquiry into the thin boundaries between public and private property. They explore the ways in which things like melons, lemons, and berries tell stories about the people who consume them.
For Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy, this past summer, Fallen Fruit created Theater of the Sun, a project that maps 500 locations where different kinds of fruit, many of them not native to Italy, can be found on the island of Sicily, using all of this as a metaphor for the movement of people and products across borders. For a project commissioned by the city of San Diego, they plan to plant fruit trees near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Born in 1981, Orange, Massachusetts
Genevieve Gaignard works primarily with a form of photographic self-portraiture for which she dons costumes to embody different characters as a way to understand how they might navigate the world. She also creates installations representing her characters’ imagined living spaces. Visits to local thrift shops ensure that her characters are “really of the place,” said Gaignard, who described her methods as a way of “taking the past and bringing it with you as times change.”
Her work explores the complexities of racial identity, particularly as it relates to her own experience as a multiracial woman who can pass for white. “If I allow you to enter the space of this person that shows more about who they really are, you’re asked to check your opinions or projections that you put on that person,” she said.
Born in 1981, Detroit, Michigan
Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s twitchy videos rely on a range of appropriated source material, from DVDs of movies like The Breakfast Club to stock photography to clips culled from the website WorldstarHipHop. “I’m interested in the overload of screens” and in portrayals of objectified blackness in media, said Huffman, who splits his time between L.A. and Brooklyn.
Also a poet, he sometimes incorporates text that nods obliquely at his subject matter. (“White people explain John Baldessari to me,” reads one of his photo-based works.) “It’s this process of letting what I’m finding footage-wise inform what I’m writing and vice versa,” he said. A new video is based on Grace Jones’s performance in a James Bond film and focuses on “performing identity through music.”
Born in 1986, Tehran, Iran
“Start here,” “yes no,” “acts involving torture”—these are some of the many phrases to flash on-screen in a video by Gelare Khoshgozaran that lifts text from official documents familiar to asylum seekers and immigrants in America. Like many of the self-identified artist-writer’s pieces, mm/dd/yyyy (2015) deals with the political content of language. In addition to making videos and installations, Khoshgozaran works as a translator and writes for contemptorary, an online journal she cofounded with Eunsong Kim in support of queer and women artists of color. (“The contempt for the contemporary is an acknowledgement of the conditions under which we participate as artists, writers, and cultural producers,” a statement on the journal’s website explains.)
“War and military culture are such a constant in the United States that it’s almost become invisible,” Khoshgozaran said. For her film Medina Wasl: Connecting Town (2018), a faux Iraqi village built as a training ground for American soldiers becomes a site for exploring lines between fact and fiction. She is currently working on a “cinematic self-portrait” about a real building in Washington, D.C., that has become ensnared in a bureaucratic tug of war.
Young Joon Kwak
Born in 1984, Queens, New York
In work that takes the form of sculpture, performance, and video—and is often made in collaboration with other artists—Young Joon Kwak is concerned with imagining different ways of conceiving human bodies and the spaces they occupy “through manipulations in form, functionality, and materiality.” After moving to L.A. in 2012, Kwak founded Mutant Salon, a roving beauty salon/performance platform conceived to bring together queer and trans communities, people of color, and women in anti-institutional ways similar to underground shows frequented by the artist’s noise band Xina Xurner (with Marvin Astorga).
“If artists are meant to produce new forms of beauty, I would align myself with a sort of mutant beauty,” said Kwak, whose interests include considering “traditional patriarchal standards of beauty in relation to the history of white supremacy, imperialism, and current social justice issues.”
Born in 1979, Concord, Massachusetts
Candice Lin braids together little-known histories, feminist theory, and scientific investigations in installations with crisscrossing narratives that span continents and centuries. Recent work has drawn on the tangled relationship between porcelain importation and colonialism as well as figures like writer James Baldwin; Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe; and the 18th-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian.
“How do you research histories that aren’t recorded or archived?” Lin asked. Some of her recent work focuses on connections between various plants and migration patterns of Chinese workers in the Caribbean and California—with an aim to show how “different geographies are all connected.”
Born in 1987, Los Angeles, California
Born and raised in the L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Star Montana uses analog photography to document community issues like racial profiling, marginalization, and cultural stereotypes. Fifteen years ago, when she was a teenager, Montana accompanied her cousin and his friends to shows in the Chicanx punk scene with her 35mm camera, and started taking photos of that community. “Everybody was like, Document this because this is important to us,” Montana said. “They gave me a focus. My friends and my family became collaborators.”
After her cousin was murdered, she used her camera to help process her pain, and during her time at the School of Visual Arts in New York, she arrived at her striking style of outdoor portraiture. She also interviews her subjects—including various strangers she encounters throughout Boyle Heights—and exhibits their stories alongside her images.
Born in 1980, Los Angeles, California
Memory plays a key role in two projects by Guadalupe Rosales—“Veteranas and Rucas” and “Map Pointz”—that circulate primarily on two Instagram accounts and are crowd-sourced from those accounts’ sizable followings. The former presents group portraits of young Latinx and Chicanx women in photo studios at malls as well as images from the 1960s and ’70s and as far back as the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots; the latter focuses on ’90s-era Chicanx rave and party culture in California. Both are intended to “reframe and shine a light on misrepresented brown histories,” said Rosales.
Recently, she began creating installations that draw from those archives. One such work, Latinas Mapping the City (2018), is a collage-based grouping of photographs of “young women socializing in different parts of the city, day and night, out on the streets and in intimate spaces such as bedrooms.”
“We can only hold so much information,” Rosales said, “but that doesn’t mean it gets erased. We may forget details of the past, but material can always activate our memory.”
Born in 1978, San Francisco, California
When Shizu Saldamando moved to L.A. for art school more than 20 years ago, daily bus rides across town to her job at the Chicanx arts center Self Help Graphics & Art inspired a unique style of portraiture that spotlights punks, queers, activists, and artists on the city’s Eastside. Using either paint or ink, she works on found materials including bedsheets, handkerchiefs, and wood panels, the ready-made backdrops paying tribute to folk art and traditional landscape painting in Asia.
More recently, Saldamando has also taken up work as a tattoo artist. “It has allowed me to reconnect with what got me excited about art in the first place,” she said. “And it reconnected me to people I wouldn’t normally be in contact with in a fine art or academic context.”
Born in 1992, Brooklyn, New York
“How do you feel when you are photographed?” Texas Isaiah often asks his subjects. “What does this experience mean to you?” The results are emotionally—and sometimes physically—naked images of people rendered in muted colors, their settings often dictated by the sitter’s lifestyle. In a self-portrait titled My Name Is My Name I (2016), the artist (who also spends time in the Bay Area) sits naked on a bare wooden floor, head inclined, with two fiddle-leaf figs forming an arch above him—a melancholy arrangement he has called a meditation on grief and healing.
His photographs relate, the artist said, to topophilia, or the connection between a person’s politics or cultural identity and sense of place. “I am interested in how we hold our narratives in communal areas and where this connection is rooted,” he said. “Are we connected to a location because we have physically visited or spent a lot of time there? Is it because of a deep ancestral remembrance of a place? Or both? How does this connection evolve when we get our photograph taken in a space that means a lot to us? The answers are unending.”
Born in 1973, Porto Alegre, Brazil
As a child growing up in Brasília, Clarissa Tossin was fascinated—and mystified—by Oscar Niemeyer’s sloping modernist buildings. Decades later, her sculptures and videos evince an interest in architecture, urban environments, and the kinds of histories that guide their making. “I approach architecture as a device for thinking and as a lens through which one can interrogate realities,” she said.
For a video titled Ch’u Mayaa (2017), Tossin enlisted a Puerto Rican dancer to leap and writhe through the Mayan styles incorporated in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, the architect’s first in L.A. For a similar series, Tossin created sculptures based on the storied Mayan Theater, a movie house built in 1927 that likewise draws on the look of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican architecture. The works feature sheets of silicone bearing the theater’s designs, some of which sprout brown hands and feet. Tossin said they relate to how visual information “travels beyond its source and is exchanged, transformed, and resisted by other cultures.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of ARTnews on page 96 under the title “L.A. Artists to Watch.”