Lari Pittman


          Docent Researcher: Susan Palmore

 

Biodata

Birth date: Los Angeles, California 1952

Current residence: Los Angeles

Education: California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California BFA 1974 and                          MFA 1976

Employment: Artist; Professor of Painting and Drawing, UCLA Department of Art

 

Major Shows/Galleries

Pittman’s paintings have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Surveys of his work include those held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1996); the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (199610; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1998); the Villa Arson, France; and the Center for Contemporary Art in Geneva, Switzerland. Pittman has been included in four Biennial Exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and showed work at Documenta X in Germany. Solo exhibitions include those held at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York; Greengrassi, London; Monika Sprüth-Philomene Magers Gallery, Munich; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

 He has participated in the Venice Biennale (2003); Documenta X (1997); and three Whitney Biennials (1993, 1995, 1997).

Pittman has received many awards, including a Pacific Design Center Stars of Design Award (2004); the Skowhegan Medal (2002); and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 1989, 1993).   

Media/Techniques

 

Pittman is a painter and draftsman using anthropomoriphic depictions which are loaded with symbolism and coda.  He paints on gessoed paper, panels, and on canvas.

 

Pittman, whose vivid, large-scale paintings are covered in flourishes and reticulations of design, is an artist who intellectualizes beauty and adornment rather than fetishizes it. Surface, for Pittman, has the breadth and density of deeply coded terrain. “I don’t have a cultural mistrust of the surface,” he says. “A reflective, sensational surface is still a conduit for meaning.”

A monumental figure in the history of L.A. art—albeit one not closely tied to any particular movement or school—Pittman has been developing his idiosyncratic, meta-visionary style for the last three decades.

 

 

 

Contextual information

Influences (historical/personal/political):

 

Inspired by commercial advertising, folk art, and decorative traditions, his meticulously layered paintings transform pattern and signage into luxurious scenes fraught with complexity, difference, and desire. In a manner both visually gripping and psychologically strange, Pittman’s hallucinatory works reference myriad aesthetic styles, from Victorian silhouettes to social realist murals to Mexican retablos. Pittman uses anthropomorphic depictions of furniture, weapons, and animals, loaded with symbolism, to convey themes of romantic love, violence, and mortality. His paintings and drawings are a personal rebellion against rigid, puritanical dichotomies. They demonstrate the complementary nature of beauty and suffering, pain and pleasure, and direct the viewer’s attention to bittersweet experiences and the value of sentimentality in art and direct the viewer’s attention to bittersweet experiences and the value of sentimentality in art.

Despite subject matter that changes from series to series, Pittman’s deployment of simultaneously occurring narratives and opulent imagery reflects the rich heterogeneity of American society, the artist’s Colombian heritage, and the distorting effects of hyper-capitalism on everyday life.

Regarding the influence of living in Los Angeles, Pittman said, “I think as chaotic as American culture is—sadly, ironically, or even perversely—I thrive on that. I’m able to carve out a tremendous amount of freedom. Particularly in Los Angeles. I don’t think I would be capable of carving that out in, let’s say, Europe or Latin America. I don’t think I could do it.”

“If there’s a stronger side to my dual identity as both American and Latino, I think there is a very strong Mediterranean core to who I am...But growing up my formative years were spent in Colombia. My mother is Colombian, of South American and Italian ancestry. My mother’s family were not practicing Catholics, they were social Catholics. My father is southern, from the United States. He’s from a Protestant background though he was an atheist. I grew up in a very hybrid world.“   

 

Expressive qualities

Pittman is an abstract painter (mostly on paper), employing realistic and hallucinatory images together.

In the mid-’80s, the density and detail of Pittman’s abstract imagery intensifies exponentially. In “Farming the Self” (1986), illegible language fragments sprout from loamy fields. In “Tending the Farm” (1986), these loopy forms become pods and bottles. They get bigger and bolder and more whimsically Surreal in two works from 1987, “Where Curiosity and Diversity Will Grow Like Weeds (2737 A.D.)” and “Where Valor Will Produce the More Complex Bloom (6823 A.D.)”

In the '90s, Pittman’s pictures get more graphic and dynamic. Victorian silhouettes, stylized owls, disembodied eyeballs and all manner of decanters, beakers, vessels and vases draw viewers into tumultuous mixtures of color, texture and shape, as well as mood, atmosphere and sentiment.

Over the last decade, Pittman has continued to polish his skills as a colorist, creating indescribably vibrant combinations of weird tertiary tints that dazzle the eye and blow the mind. Compositional complexity, designer virtuosity, narrative ambiguity and sheer, visual genius pack his 16 works on paper from 2010 with more mesmerizing energy than anything else in “Orangerie.”

Subject Matter/ Themes:

His paintings and drawings are a personal rebellion against rigid, puritanical dichotomies. They demonstrate the complementary nature of beauty and suffering, pain and pleasure, and direct the viewer’s attention to bittersweet experiences and the value of sentimentality in art and direct the viewer’s attention to bittersweet experiences and the value of sentimentality in art.

Anecdotal Information and Quotes

 In an  interview with Art21, Pittman stated that, “I like that the (my) work is visually very declarative and available to everybody. I think that multiple viewers can approach it very differently. For example, I’m always excited when the UPS man or the waterman comes in to the studio to make a delivery. And they immediately respond to the work—give a thumbs up, that type of thing. I’m really taken by that, that the work is available on a very quotidian level, that makes me happy. But I’m also interested in the work occupying a denser critical territory that would require a different type of visual literacy. I’m thrilled that the work is not confined to one demographic. That it is actually astoundingly mobile in that sense. I think that’s a political resonance of the work. ..A lot of work can only occupy very specific linguistic territories or very specific critical territories. But I think that my work has the capacity to navigate between the very distant poles of populist and elitist. “

 

“Suffering and beauty are not antithetical, but actually complementary. It isn’t about morbidity. It’s actually a cultural mindset that is predisposed to aestheticizing even pain and suffering. It’s not seen as decadent. It’s just about a duality of things.”

 

 

 

 

References:

·      Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York Regen Projects, Los Angeles

·      Lari Pittman on the Art21 blog

·      Los Angeles Times, Art Review: Lari Pittman at Regen Projects and Regen Projects II September 23, 2010

·      Rachel Kushner, “Surface Tension, LA Times, September 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

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