Lisa Derrick Fine Arts joined the downtown Los Angeles art scene at its location on the historic Chung King Road in Chinatown. The grand opening exhibition presented Chinese-American artist Gary Wong’s, Allegory and Cypher, and Taiwanese artist Ginger Lai’s, New Energy. Understanding the relationship between the two artists and the curator is a window into what Los Angeles is.
Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, and the beach are images that come to mind when someone thinks about Los Angeles. People move to the City of Angels from around the world with the dream of making it big, to experience a laid-back lifestyle in sunny weather, or to be immersed in a thriving cosmopolitan paradise. Running along the Pacific coast, Los Angeles is not landlocked, which is to say that it is not in a box. Like the incoming waves on the city’s western border, the people are generally receptive to shifts in the currents of culture. Carnivores frequent vegetarian restaurants, straight people celebrate gay pride, and people from various ethnic backgrounds attend each other’s cultural events. From Malibu to Mt. Washington, Los Angeles has a cultural spectrum with as much diversity as there are neighborhoods. These unified cultures form the Los Angeles experience.
There is a dark side underneath the sunny metropolis. Los Angeles is also the gang capital of the world. Gang culture in Los Angeles was the result of early institutional racism. Housing covenants displaced people of color into unrepresented neighborhoods that lacked equal resources. These marginalized communities experienced severe police brutality, which led to the Watts Riots in 1965 and the 1992 riots. Where the institutions fell short, the people within these communities developed a voice through art and music. Rap, street, graffiti, and tattoo art have had such an impact on American culture that these artists are now shown in galleries and museums, as well as, winning awards and giving lectures at universities.
Gary Wong is one of five members that make up the California Locos, a Southern Californian visual art group that interprets their diverse cultural backgrounds through various artistic mediums and styles. The contrast of their art presented as a coalition provides a thorough depiction of the subversive West Coast subcultures that have reverberated across the globe, influencing fashion, music, and visual art. Informed by postwar art movements, multicultural exchanges, and local subcultures from gangs to surfers, skaters to punk rockers, hot rods and graffiti art, each member embodies Los Angeles as a city in which the entire world exists. As individual artists and as the California Locos, by representing their local Los Angeles culture, they are transcending the city’s limits.
Whereas the California Locos use the lens of rebellion, subversion, and subculture, we see from the life and works of Ginger Lai another example of cultural diversity that has shaped the LA experience. Lai moved to Los Angeles from Taiwan when she was a teenager, taking with her traditional impressions from Sumi ink painting. She later adopted the styles of Western Abstract Expressionism. The coalescence of her Eastern tradition with the deconstructive Western art movement reflects the experience of many residents bring their local culture with them when they transplant to LA from their hometown. What they bring further defines the city’s cultural topography.
Lisa Derrick is a Los Angeles native with a passion for the history and culture of her city. Much like the California Locos, the impressions of LA’s multicultural ecosystem informed her values and calibrated her vision for discovering talent overlooked by the mainstream. In 2017, she co-curated Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment at the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, California, which she also co-produced the Dark Progressivism documentary. Dark Progressivism, created by Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre, is both an art movement and a series of art exhibitions, involving a collective of Southern California-based artists from street and gang backgrounds. Dark Progressivism tells the history of Southland’s contribution to modern and contemporary art, especially the graffiti, lettering, and tattoo styles that are now seen worldwide. Derrick has also been a force behind the Cholo-Goth band Prayers, whose lead singer Leafar Seyer was an active San Diego gang-member before transitioning into a full-time artist. Furthermore, she has curated several shows in support of Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization established by the Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, which has assisted over 10,000 former gang-members and incarcerated men and women develop work skills.
Derrick’s curations have touched on many points of the cultural spectrum in Los Angeles, including LGBTQ, gender, gangs, and the occult through all mediums, from painting to performance art. Her first curation was Two Johns and a Whore at Coagula Curation, which explored the relationship between art, love, sex, and commerce. How she frames subcultures brings their value forward.
Dark objects draw the mind to a point, whereas, an undefined white space tends to enable our periphery vision.
The cryptic works of Gary Wong fashioned with Americana imagery, reversed lettering, and subtle occult symbolism draw the mind inward. The images are distinguishable and the lettering is unreadable, although it seems that you can make out words here and there. The composition becomes less about what it is and more about what the associations
In the gallery’s back room, Lai’s New Energy is a visual contrast to the darker palette of Wong’s artwork. The white canvases and vibrant colors, further ornate with glitter, project our attention outward. And yet, both incorporate elements of introspection and projection. The curation is like a yin-yang of visual art alchemy. The rawness of Wong’s Allegory and Cypher together with the soft organic flow of Lai’s New Energy
On the surface, they can represent Los Angeles. Images of Chop-Chop, classic cars, and celebrities define Wong’s experience as a Chinese-American. Lai’s light color palette and the elegant flow of her automatic painting are a balance between two contrasting theories. Under the surface, they
Whether it be cultural, political, or spiritual, Los Angeles is a city of transformation, for better or worse. That process involves deconstruction and creation. Los Angeles is where the wealthy fall into decadence, and where the marginalized manifest cultural legacies. Allegory and Cypher along with New Energy is the story of Los Angeles and the human experience.
The two solo exhibitions are joined with a group show in the downstairs grotto, which includes artists such as Clive Barker, Ron Athey, Anthony Ausgang, Katherine Brannock, Gogol, Randi Matushevitz, and Melinda R. Smith.
961 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, CA 9001
Exhibition photos courtesy of Nick Bianco.