Ugly is The New Black

Here we are in August again and this hot and sleepy month is actually the first where I am back working in my LA studio. With children back at school I started 20 paintings on paper and so far 7 of them are completed. And while two already have manifested as duds, my goal is to produce at least 15 highly successful paintings. It does feel good to get back to work in my old studio after three years but I do miss my compañeros at Sporting Club in Spain. Working alone suits me but that friendly interruption or visitation in my Valencian studio was a nice change from my solitary work life as an artist. But the abundance of natural light and views of trees out every window makes it a very pleasant and tranquil place to work.


As I work, I follow a few galleries on social media just to keep up with what is going on in the art world. One of the galleries I follow is White Walls in San Francisco. Their current show is an exhibition of paintings by Mr Jago. I’m not sure how to describe these paintings other than that they are extremely ugly. That’s not to say they are bad paintings but that they are purposefully garish in color and composition. I had a visitor to my studio recently and she said her favorite piece of my new work was the one she described as having crazy 70’s-like colors. I said, “Yeah, like a disco heart attack, right?”

CliffDistortion2,2014,15x18inCliff Distortion 2, 2014, acrylic on paper, 15″ x 18″

Using my Tokyo inspired color story and turning back the clock to my rollerskating days has lead me to this new palette of bright and high contrast colors that light up one’s synapses. I am experimenting with using fluorescent colors from Golden Paint. I layer the neon pigment on top of another color and the combination creates a third hue that is vibrantly lit but subdued enough not to look like a gimmick.  While I personally love making minimal work using a very restricted palette, I feel I need to play to my strengths as a colorist and declare ugly to be to new black. Beautiful is out – it’s time to get out the spandex and bring on the ugly.

When I read that Licia Albanese died at the age of 105 this month, it reminded me of how lucky I was to have met her as a young girl. Licia was a very dear friend of my grandmother’s and would visit us when she performed in Los Angeles. This is a portrait my grandmother did of Licia in 1944:


For one of Licia’s visits, I was included for dinner at the venerable Chasen’s restaurant. In the 1980’s this was the celebrity hang out and where else would you take a world famous opera singer? While we were having dinner, a nearby table began to sing Happy Birthday. As was the tradition at Chasen’s, everyone in the whole restaurant would chime in. We all sang along and Licia too in her “normal” voice. Right at the final verse Licia sang out in her full operatic voice, “TO YOU!” The entire restaurant froze and then broke out into applause as they scanned the room to find the source of the incredible sound. It was a moment so thrilling, I remember exactly as if it happened yesterday.

Many years later when My grandmother died, I came to our family home to help my mother make calls. Licia just happened to call that day and I answered the phone. She asked for Marion and I told her that she had died that day. Her response was disbelief as she told me that she was coming to LA that very week and had plans to see my grandmother. “No,” she said, “It can’t be. I’m on my way.” I felt the sadness in her voice and the helplessness of loosing a very dear friend.


This month’s music: Little Dragon


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