I am very excited about the current gallery installation we have up in the Los Angeles shop. California native and L.A.-based painter Luke Forsyth has created a series of acrylic-on-panel works inspired by our state’s iconic Interstate-5, affectionately known to Californians as simply “The 5.”
Somewhere along the 5 features works based on moments strewn along the 5 freeway in California. The imagery in each painting signify the quotidian: a tag from a coat purchased at a thrift store; an embroidery from the artist’s mother's kitchen; a rendering of a place both hated and comfortable, and ultimately from where the artist collects his visions.
I chatted with Luke a bit last week about this installation, as well as his background and art practice here in East L.A. You can see Luke’s recent works in person at our Echo Park shop, on view through May 28th.
Alexis: Can you tell me a bit more about this current body of work, and why the 5 Interstate is significant to you?
Luke: This latest body of work is site-specific to this store. I have gone to openings at Esqueleto in Oakland for years. I love the earthy grey-scale color palette. I wanted to hybridize my normal hyper-colorful palette with a more naturalistic beauty and the beige-y tan/sun bleached beauty of California - I feel Esqueleto does a great job of embodying that. I also wanted to pay homage to my homeland. I am a seventh-generation Californian and love it here.
I have always traveled on the 5 freeway since childhood, visiting family in Los Angeles from Northern California where I am originally from. I always thought it was awful: its flatness, its seeming emptiness, the sparse population, all of this drew much criticism from me most of my life. This was until I realized on a lovely drive down from the Bay Area that the beautiful blossoms, the softness of neutral colors, and the lines created by mountain gently meeting the sky made up a place of true beauty. This angular divide, a blending of these abstracted mountains to the openness of above spoke to me. I had an intense change of heart. I have a new appreciation for this fertile crescent. The golden promised land. The wild west.
Sourcing my imagery is a very intrinsic part of my process. I found all the imagery somewhere along the 5. From the label of a thrift store jacket to an abstracted landscape scene with an appropriated image of a horse to a rooster on a soy sauce package from a Chinese food place that is walking distance from my studio, I wanted everything to have a relationship to one another. They felt like disparate imagery at first, but this through line of the 5 allowed me to reassess and edit, and it all came together.
A: You have a great studio in Lincoln Heights. What does your studio practice entail? What’s a typical day for you? What’s your favorite part about your neighborhood?
L: L: My practice includes collecting imagery and then drawing it. Over and over, in order to simplify. I draw a lot. I work on images sometimes for weeks. Then I decide on a final edit and apply the imagery as I see fit. A flattening of the imagery and close attention to the selection of colors to be employed, as I see it, is primarily the elevation of the mundane. I love to depict folklore, hippy culture and landscapes interfacing architecture. Putting these images into a geometric post-minimalistic abstraction, like raising a soy sauce package or an old embroidery, fills me with joy. I feel this process is heavily informed by my reverence and constant studying of art history, in particularly the cannon of painting.
My life revolves around going to the studio. I live walking distance and normally stop by my studio at least once a day. I often hold exhibitions or meetings there just to keep the space activated. My favorite parts of my neighborhood are the ancient structures, barren hills and stunning views of Angeles National Forest. There is a lack of density that allows for bigger thoughts. This abundance of space is a much-needed element for the health of artists, and it has a long history of housing artists’ enclaves.
A: You created pieces with a more subdued color palette for this exhibit, but your work typically features very bright, energetic fields of clashing colors. What sorts of things influence your work? From where do you draw your inspiration?
L: I draw my inspiration from art history, the banal everyday, the hippy sub culture in which I was raised and jazz music from around the world. I am always ready to be turned on and seek inspiration from museums, galleries as well as places considered lowbrow like thrift stores and gas stations. But to that end as well - travel in a general sense is a big influencer. I was fortunate that my parents raised me to appreciate other cultures and took us traveling, including a very pivotal trip to Oaxaca one Christmas where I think my color saturation was heightened forever. Also, the older I get the more I realize how influenced I am by having been raised in a VERY rural area and the proximity of nature will always be a source of my true power.