“Just the Tip,” a show at Little Tokyo’s Hold Up Art, professes to only hint at the entire “mind at work” of an artist, according to the artist statement by Nick D’attomo, whose works are featured. Yet, even if they represent “just the tip,” the works certainly say a lot.
In one piece, “Krishna,” a figure resembling the Indian god sports a Clippers jersey, wears leopard-print underwear, clutches an iPod, and seems to be smoking a joint. And his legs end in lion feet. The woman in “Desire” represents a similarly unusual mix of elements – wings longer than the length of her body, a Lakers jersey, Virgin of Guadalupe tattoo and a rainbow bikini.
Another work called “The Bus” is – on first glance – more realistic. Its setting is the inside of a bus in transit and its characters are a man and a woman who are seated opposite from one another on benches that face inside the bus. They appear to be chatting, oblivious to the litter strewn about the car – an opened bag of fries, the candy rolling down the aisle, triangular nachos on the windowsill, the soda that has flipped sideways, spilling all over the seat and staining a copy of the Los Angeles Times. Then there’s the ubiquitous graffiti, whether inked on an interior wall or scratched onto a window.
It would seem so realistic if not for one thing: the infusion of bright color and sharp lines, reminding me of a cartoon serape. Such colors, especially inside of a bus, are rare in Los Angeles. After a few minutes of contemplation, I’m still not sure how to decipher the body language of the characters – hunched shoulders, arched eyebrows, folded arms. But when a guy saunters over, takes one glance and mutters, “This is awesome,” I know I have to agree.
The exhibition includes work from nine other artists and I sweep around the gallery viewing spray paint art, detailed drawings and blobs of thick paint. There are also a few works that resemble Jackon Pollock’s splatterings – except that each line seems to ooze rather than streak. The effect is grotesque.
The gallery space, which practically thumps from a loud soundtrack of rap and hip hop, is spacious and easy to walk through. There are enough individual spaces so that your attention is focused, but not too many that you feel stuck in a maze. The wooden floors create a “homey” feeling, unlike concrete floors which can seem sterile. Several black walls contrast nicely with the white ones.
I noticed that most art-viewers were passerby heading to dinner. Some lingered while others only took a brief glance, but in both cases the gallery had succeeded in attracting an audience.
Later, at home, I read the gallery’s mission statement on its website:
“Hold Up Art is an independent art space, curating exhibitions of working Pop Urban artists. Occupying a central location in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles’ new downtown, Hold Up provides an answer to the irrelevant role currently played by contemporary art institutions, both private and public. Focused on participation and accessibility, Hold Up offers a revitalized environment for dialogue between artist and audience.”
It left me with more questions than answers.
What is “Pop Urban?”
Are contemporary art institutions really irrelevant? Why?
How does Hold Up invite participation? And from whom?
Last, what about the environment is being revitalized?