West Hollywood architecture firm New Theme is already known for their sustainable approach to design, and recently they’ve expanded their ideology to a gallery space that aims to feature local artists whose values are in line with the company’s own. The gallery’s current “Diffraction” finds four such artists — in mediums that include painting, sculpture, and found object — whose work may be defined by its distorted physical and often thematic properties. We separately quizzed two of the exhibition’s included artists, Nick Aguayo and Zack Stadel, about the art they make, their views on the state of visual arts, and what the heck diffraction means anyway (the title is actually borrowed from a physics term that refers to the way energetic waves bend around an obstacle).
Southern California native Aguayo creates largely non-representational abstract paintings that layer forms and colors with an interest the way they bounce between harmony and dissonance, while Portland-born Stadel re-imagines compositions of images culled from pornography to redefine their narrative. Check out these artists’ contributions to “Diffraction” before its closing on July 13th and visit New Theme’s website for more information.
Define “diffraction.” How does the term connect to the kind of work you make?
NA: Thinking about diffraction as a type of bending, adaptation, or reaction to an “obstacle ” feels very parallel to my working process. I never refer to preparatory studies and my work is never planned. I often think of my paintings as being like diagrams or maps, revealing the traces of decisions that result from numerous obstacles that occur within any given work. I find that working through the constant push and pull of these obstacles can lead to exciting and unexpected results.
Is there a style of art you think is overrated? What about underrated?
ZS: Street art is overrated, but that’s a well that was pretty much dry to begin with. There’s always a lot of regional art that’s underrated. People are doing or have done surprising, innovative things and haven’t gotten enough exposure for it because they weren’t in New York, or London, or Los Angeles, or even if they were there, they were under the radar. I like Ray Yoshida, Christina Ramberg, Roger Brown and some of the other imagists from Chicago. B. Wurtz is finally getting some of the love he deserves. There’s a lot of Eastern European artists that had more interesting takes on the zeitgeist than their more well known contemporaries in the West. There’s Běla Kolářová, František Kyncl, Garry Faif, Zdeněk Pešánek was making crazy neon sculpture way back in the 1930s, Zlatan Dumanić’s paper constructions, and more recently Ivan Kafka’s installations and Branko Lepen’s neon sculptures.
If you could go back to any time period as a working artist — Midnight in Paris style — what would that be?
ZS: I would go back to 1998 and tell myself to quit fucking around. And stop bleaching your hair. It looks stupid.
What work of art has moved you most?
NA: Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, or maybe a Matisse painting I saw when I was a kid.
Finish this sentence: Art needs more ______________.
ZS: Public funding.
How has where you grew up affected the type of work you make?
ZS: Portland is an interesting place. The visual arts there were mostly regional and craft-based, as you would see in any medium sized city. The perpetual overcast sky makes it feel like you’re indoors even when you’re outside, so you start to get cabin fever. It was very insular, there was a lot of navel-gazing, in general. But there’s a lot of community support of the arts, and good will, and it seems like there’s intent and creativity in every single public and commercial space in the city
NA: I grew up in Palm Springs. The slowness of the desert inspired me to paint.
What is the most inspiring thing about Los Angeles?
NA: My amazing artist friends that live here.
ZS: The weather and the space. Stepping off an airplane and onto the tarmac is such a perfectly metaphorical way to arrive in Los Angeles. Everything was so cramped and you were breathing other people’s farts (in New York or Chicago) and then you get up, and get out, and you can stretch your legs and feel the sun on your face and see the horizon. And then you take a deep lung full of hydrocarbons and feel the asphalt melting the soles off your shoes.