Home Museums David Amico brings the streets of LA into the gallery

David Amico brings the streets of LA into the gallery

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David Amico, “Newstand” (2011), 96 x 72 (all images courtesy of the artist)

LOS ANGELES — After spending a good part of three days in David Amico‘s studio, looking at the work he has done since he was a student at California State Fullerton, I thought about how to characterize his paintings and his career, both of which have gone under the radar. Are the paintings he has done since the mid-1980s, when he took off, abstract or figurative or both? Would it be correct to say that Amico was an observational abstract painter working in the sphere of artists as diverse as Catherine Murphy and Peter Dreher? How should one consider his use of the camera and the overhead projector? Would it be correct to say that he is a photo-based abstract painter working in counterpoint to Robert Bechtle? After all, many of Amico’s source images come from particular neighborhoods, just as Bechtle’s stark, brooding paintings were inspired by the deserted streets of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Can an artist working in this way be faithful to the multiple identities of painting?

That’s what I love about Amico’s paintings. They do not fit into any of the categories established by the art world. I can say what I see in individual works, and even guess the sources of many, but I’ve never found an umbrella category for them as a group, and he’s never developed a signature style or done part of a trend. Now in the early 70s, Amico is an under-recognized artist whose works deserve museum exhibition and a monograph.

At the start of my three-day marathon studio visit, Amico and I started talking about sources, appropriation and what he learned after leaving Hunter College and his work was included in the first exhibition from group to PS1 (now MoMA PS1), A month of Sundays (September 19-October 10, 1976). I learned that he had a residence at PS1 which came with a studio, where he often slept, and that he took pictures of nearby industrial districts and railway stations, then in disrepair. It suggested to me an interest in areas that have not been gentrified, as well as a connection to his roots in Southern California, where his family moved from Rochester, New York, for employment opportunities. . Her father, a high school dropout, worked in a slaughterhouse. Shortly after Amico’s PS1 residency ended, he moved back to Los Angeles and began living in downtown lofts. When I asked him why he left New York, where he moved specifically to study with Robert Morris and others in Hunter’s MFA program, he said he couldn’t afford it; in Los Angeles, a comparably sized space costs 1/10 the rent in New York.

David Amico, “Drum Rust” (2009), 72 x 48 inches

Over the next 40 years, Amico developed a practice that is as true to its Los Angeles area as David Hockney and Jonas Wood are to theirs. Amico lives in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles. Its street is lined with encampments of homeless people who form a community and keep each other safe. Living in a sunny industrial space in a neighborhood that hasn’t been gentrified, as it has in downtown LA for over 40 years, Amico has seen the neighborhood change, while remaining essentially the same: a shelter for homeless people, with Hotels, missions and SRO clinics.

For years, Amico roamed Los Angeles in the early morning and photographed walls and surfaces in industrial neighborhoods: a battered and discarded drafting table, for example, or a rain-washed sidewalk with mud and dirt on it. stones were scattered. Yet, unlike Bechtle and other Photorealists, Amico was not interested in pictorial compositions. He focused on marks, shapes, graffiti and moldy surfaces. In this respect he shares something with Cy Twombly, whose interest in graffiti and mark making is highly regarded. One difference between them is readability, with Twombly working on the readable side and Amico preferring asemic.

Amico challenged himself with the particular images he chose to work from. How can you reproduce a stain on an industrial wall or convey the way a liquid adheres to a pockmarked surface without becoming photographic? Can you stay true to the materiality of paint, from liquid to manipulable density? How to recognize the ravages of time?

Instead of looking for a certain kind of image, Amico wandered around unpopulated industrial areas looking for material in both New York and Los Angeles. Years of exploring have taught him to take his camera wherever he goes. If he doesn’t have it, he’ll come back with it. I learned that the source of a painting we looked at was graffiti on a brick near the entrance to a Chinese restaurant. Based on the markings and the location of the brick, he realized that the graffiti could only have been drawn by someone lying on the sidewalk and that the markings seemed both useful and purposeless.

David Amico, “Untitled Blue” (2007), oil on canvas, 108 x 144 inches

Amico’s way of seeing the world dates back to his days as an art student at Cal State Fullerton, when he would deliver newspapers before dawn and then gather trash to incorporate into his art. At the time, the school was surrounded by industrial spaces for canneries, paper products and aerospace factories. His interest in the left behind, the forgotten and the anonymous is one of the guidelines of his career.

While Amico strives to be faithful to the materiality of the image – lightly stained surfaces on which other marks have been made by humans and nature – the transformation he engenders through paint is what which I find captivating. In the oil on canvas “Untitled Blue” (2007), which measures 108 by 144 inches – a scale he used often – we see a subtly changing blue background, lightly painted with blue flecks and an unidentifiable shape. A line defining an oblong shape is just off-center. Are the lines just that or should we read them?

In “Desert Stream” (2010), do we read the dark gray area cutting diagonally across the painting as a stain or a shadow? What about the circular orange spots near the top edge or the solid black shape that extends from the bottom left edge? How should we see the myriads of little marks and spots, which suggest a mountain landscape? Even if we know the source, we end up with more questions than answers.

The beginnings of abstraction were utopian. Kasimir Malevich believed that the Russian Revolution would lead to a new modern society and spiritual freedom. The De Stijl group, founded by Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and Gerrit Rietvald in 1920, believed that art could be both beautiful and functional. In 1926, van Doesburg, Mondrian, Rietveld, Bart van der Leck and Gerrit Berkelaar signed a manifesto stating that their collective aim was “to create works that were simple, direct and devoid of any superfluous ornamentation”, without “any concession”. mercantilism or consumerism.

In a century in which that optimism has all but disappeared and painting has been repeatedly declared dead, Amico continues to believe in both painting and abstraction. By choosing as subjects of his work industrial walls, boarded up buildings and other marked edifices, he is committed to pursuing a path where abstraction and the everyday world, man and nature come together. By focusing on anonymous marks and stains, he rejects the heroism of gestural abstraction and the reductive order of minimalism without giving up the possibility of drawing in paint. At the same time, it honors the history of making anonymous marks in “Untitled Blue” and everyone who made such scribbles, whether in a cave or outside a Chinese restaurant. There is a directness, a beauty, an urgency and an awareness of time and change in these layered paintings that the art world has yet to recognise.

David Amico, “Desert Stream” (2010), oil on canvas, 108 x 144

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