Delving Deeper into the L.A. Art World

Ah, Los Angeles. Our sunlit city of mountains and ocean, with the added gleam of the bright lights and even brighter stars of Hollywood. But look below the surface and you will find a hub of creative vision in the world of culture and art.

Slowly, quietly over the last decade, the Los Angeles art scene has grown, expanded and flourished. In 1997 the opening of the Getty Center was the first hint that the Los Angeles art community was truly going global. And now, a decade later, even bigger changes are afoot.

In 2008 alone, Los Angeles has seen the unveiling of BCAM, LACMA’s 20-acre campus expansion, along with the $20 million transformation of the Huntington Art Museum and Gardens. With more than 900 art museums and galleries, Los Angeles not only leads California’s cultural growth, but boasts more museums per capita than any other city in the nation.

And Los Angeles-based artists, a staple in the fabric of our diverse community, are prouder than ever to call L.A. their artistic home. One such artist who has been making her own not-so-quiet waves for the last 20 years is Rachel Lachowicz.

Growing up in Northern California in the 60’s and 70’s, a young Lachowicz was profoundly influenced by the ideals of her ardently feminist mother. Yet, the budding artist yearned to experience a sense of female empowerment that was truly feminine, one that allowed a woman to be both beautiful and strong. Attending art school in the mid 80’s, Lachowicz began to challenge this duality between masculinity and femininity in her work.

Always experimenting with new materials, Lachowicz tested the creative possibilities of a tube of lipstick on the back of her closet door one morning. Rediscovering the red smudge a year later, she was surprised to find the consistency and texture unchanged. This revelation led Lachowicz to her unique signature, using a palette of every-day makeup and cosmetics to cast and create her art.

Her ‘lipstick pieces’ from the early 90’s ranged from an 8”x8”x8” minimalist floor cube to the appropriation of Michelangelo’s archetypal male David statue into a two-foot tall gleaming torso of red wax and lipstick. Over the years, Lachowicz has chosen other iconic male artists’ work to recast in a similar feminine aesthetic. Whether utilizing a template based on Andy Warhol or Piet Mondrian, she adds her own wry humor to the mix. Later years produced fascinating creations of glass, wood, light and canvas, often incorporating her trademark social commentary.

In a visit to Rachel Lachowicz’s current Santa Monica studio, floor and wall sculptures immediately engage the observer – all vibrant colors and tactile textures. Upon closer examination of the materials, one discovers they are in fact crushed makeup pigment and powders pressed by Rachel herself into little metal discs and welded together to create each work of art. The result — shimmering grids of perfect rectangles — sleek discs of fiery light. The cosmetics create a statement, playing with the obsession Los Angeles and our culture have with feminine perfection. Lachowicz has taken the materials women use every day to enhance their own beauty and manipulated them for an entirely different purpose.

Over the years, pundits have both praised and criticized Lachowicz’s creativity and experimentation. Yet what matters most to Rachel is that she engages the viewer with clever art, rich with social and political subtext – and in so doing, engenders a dialogue about traditional roles in our society.

Lachowicz explains, “L.A. has Hollywood and Hollywood is the quintessential mask — the cosmetic mask. Los Angeles is the plastic surgery capital of the world. We have created that model for women — and at the same time, it is freeing. As a woman, you can choose how to present yourself — there’s beauty in that.”

Many elements about this city beckon Lachowicz. She notes the ease of accessibility to art, the unfettered exchange of ideas and the inclusiveness of the cultural community.

As Lachowicz observes, “There’s an openness and freedom — personally and professionally — that is so appealing here.”

And the appeal of art and beauty is that both are subjective. What one person admires —be it classic or offbeat — can be completely lost on another. But that’s what makes art intriguing. It allows us to explore our own creativity — and our reaction doesn’t have to agree with anyone.

Reaction to her work is important to Rachel — whether it comes from a museum curator, a colleague or a local gallery-goer during an art walk. There is a true sense of wonder in Lachowicz — a desire for connection with her observer – to be there as a viewer herself to experience the instant when someone “gets it.” Those moments are when Rachel Lachowicz beams.

And it is Lachowicz — like the art community of Los Angeles and even the city itself — who deserves reflection, praise and celebration. Whether consciously or through evolution, time has created both artist and city as forces to be reckoned with.


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