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Illuminated from Above Hawthorne’s Cordary Avenue glows with artists

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Paulin Paris with portraits of his daughter. GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

Paulin Paris with portraits of his daughter.
GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

A magician pulls rabbits from his hat or your wallet from his vest pocket. Thinh Nguyen, a conceptual artist who works out of an enclave of aging studios and mechanics’ garages in Hawthorne, is a magician of another sort. As a curator, Nguyen has been pulling credible artists out of his sleeve, if not exactly out of thin air. “Lime Light,” his newest group show, opens Saturday, June 7.

Instead of selecting individual works of art, Nguyen chooses the artists – and then gives them carte blanche as to what they can put on view. The five L.A.-based artists featured in “Lime Light” were selected in this way, and one has to say this about Thinh Nguyen, the artists he finds have intelligent and exploratory ideas about what they create. Julienne Hsu dissects the metaphor of a “dog eat dog” world with her artistic examination of underground dogfighting. Evoking the fragility of existence and the figurative sense of “feeling trapped,” Jane Gillespie Pryor’s sculptures resemble traps and shelters.
Deborah Bianculli’s work is focused on the effects of organic versus non-organic practices within industrialized farming and how this impacts the soil, coupled with the depletion of water sources. For Melanie Moore, her art dovetails with an interest in cellular biological mutation, embryonic growth, and the effects or implications of such issues as stem cell research. Lastly, Alan Nakagawa will be on hand during the opening reception to discuss his participatory installation piece, where guests can recline on “beds” to physically experience Nakagawa’s musical composition, which consists of audible and subtonic tones in a kind of sound therapy.

The title of the show, “Lime Light,” presumably bears scant relation to Chaplin’s film of the same name.

“I was questioning my idea of why do I want to curate out of my own studio here in this industrial complex,” Nguyen says. “Well, because I want to bring light to the artists here.” And he doesn’t just name his guest artists, but those with permanent work spaces within the compound. These include Axel Wilhite, Scott Meskill, and Sean McGaughey. It also includes two other accomplished resident artists, Paulin Paris and Bob Wilhite, whose studios will be open during the reception for “Lime Light.” Of these latter artists, I can’t say enough good things about either of them.

les beaux artes and Freedom fries

As the name might suggest, Paulin Paris is originally from France. His last name, he says, “comes from a tribe called the Parisi, who were the first inhabitants of Paris. It’s quite an old name then. I feel very French in that sense.”

Living in America, and becoming Americanized, he says, at the same time revives his French cultural roots. The effect on his artistic thinking is not lost on him. “As an artist it has been really influential because I don’t think I would do the same work in France.”
Paris, however, is no Johnny-come-lately; he’s been doing projects in New York for 30-35 years, and has lived in Los Angeles (Culver City at present) for 15 years. He has a family, children, and at the very least is slowly becoming Californian.

His father being a noted draftsman and his great-grandfather being a painter regarded highly enough to have works in the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris grew up in an atmosphere that emanated fine art. His first notable artistic experience or revelation came at about the age of 12 when, in Paris, he attended an exhibition of Joan Miró:
“I understood at that time that art was the ability of projecting yourself in a very deep way to something completely different from what is around you.”

This led to an appreciation of art across the spectrum of the 20th century – “you go from one revelation to another” – and the pursuit in college of two fields of interest, philosophy and painting. “Art is not only a cultural or technical practice,” Paris says, “but it’s also a philosophic approach. I’m trying more and more today to reconnect those two dynamics.”
In other words, his art is introspective and it’s not surprising that he mentions the ideas and the problem-solving techniques of such artists as Picasso and Duchamp.

“Duchamp for me is one of the most important 20th century artists because he’s the one who opened the box,” Paris says, “because (with) the ready-mades potentially anything can be art. That was an incredible move. I think Duchamp opened so many paths, and we are still walking on those paths.”

During the “Lime Light” opening Paris will show a series of his paintings he calls “Symbolic Symbols.” These, he says, “are everyday symbols that we see all around us, but in a way that reminds us that we could also see them with a different view or vision.”

He is exhibiting works by two other French artists as well. “Spice Girls” is a series of watercolors by Philippe Charpentier, but the artist has literally added spices into the work (turmeric, cumin, pepper, etc.). Paris adds, with a sly smile, that because most of the work depicts nudes, the work is – in another sense – spicy as well. This sounds like art we’ll want to bury our noses in.

Olivier Mirguet, on the other hand, is a photographer who has been living in Los Angeles for several years, and “Supervisions L.A.” evolved out of his fascination with LAPD helicopters, especially at night when they prowl the skies for gangsters. Their searchlights, as Christian Caujolle phrases it, put urban life in brackets. The “supervision” thus “is a super-vision that dashes, stalks, and hunts down thanks to a ray that seems to come from nowhere.” In short, and what a fine concept for a series of images, “We are back at photography’s roots, to writing with light; mostly when night covers the city.”

One hand clapping
Sometimes when interviewing an artist we want to cry out, Stop, stop, not because they’re talking nonsense or in non sequiturs, but because they’re a fount of too many delicious ideas, and you know you’ll drown in them and then torture yourself over which of them to include and which to leave out. Bob Wilhite is one of those interviewees.
If you enter his workspace and then his living space you don’t have to be told that this is a unique artist. You’ll just know.

Robert Wilhite with his life-size replica of Fat Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

Robert Wilhite with his life-size replica of Fat Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

“I consider myself a sculptor,” Wilhite says, “but I also do paintings, I do furniture, I do musical sculptures, I do functional art, I do non-functional art. I guess that it comes back to what your priorities are, and as an artist one of my priorities is to make objects that are compelling, and that discuss the hierarchy of art, sculpture, what is and what isn’t sculpture, and how you make art.”

A couple of examples to get us started. In Wilhite’s workshop is a lifesize replica of Fat Man, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It’s constructed out of wood slats and painted black. “The original in this size,” he says, “weighed 10,800 pounds and this one is somewhere around 130. I tried to make it a complete contradiction to what the actual bomb was.”

Upstairs, we’re standing in front of a glass-topped display case. “I design flatware,” Wilhite explains. Inside the case are several sets, each set different, of knives, forks, and spoons, the usual culinary utensils. They are, however, in a kind of cubist-geometrical style reminiscent of Purism and its adherents – Le Corbusier, Ozenfant, and Léger. “I thought that flatware and a lot of utilitarian objects hadn’t been rethought or revisited for a number of years, so I did this – and I still haven’t seen anything else like it out there.”

He showed his work to a young curator of decorative arts at a prestigious museum on the East Coast.

“He said, Well, you know, the major designers of flatware would have done like ten of these in order to make sure that one was right. And I said, Well how do you know that I didn’t? I looked at everything out there.”

Wilhite recently returned from Amsterdam, where he was commissioned to design – and build – a small public bar, which he did, from top to bottom, including the door, the floor, the barstools, the tables and chairs, the decor, everything. But don’t picture the usual sort of bar you’ve been to in Los Angeles.

A selection of the flatware created by Robert Wilhite. GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

A selection of the flatware created by Robert Wilhite.
GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

“I always try to give people what they don’t quite expect – and hopefully a little more. I also try to give them a discussion of it.” The discussion, or dialogue, is a key ingredient of the artistic creation although, in the end, even after looking at and absorbing other kinds of work, the artist follows his or her own passion and vision.

“In a way, art is an experiment to see what happens, to see what kind of response you get from people.” Other people’s approval isn’t necessary for personal fulfillment, but art isn’t meant to remain in a vacuum, and so a dialogue about the work is important.

Referring to some earlier exhibitions, Wilhite says, “They were a discussion about how you make things, and whether you do need to make things, actually physically – or if maybe you can create it in someone’s mind well enough” so that a physical object isn’t necessary.
What he’s leading to here is a series of silent musical instruments, and this embraces a set of plays that Wilhite did in collaboration with Guy de Cointet. “In one of the plays there was a reference to this musical instrument that’s picked up and talked about and never played. It’s a silent instrument.”

Now, that’s an idea that Wilhite is still intrigued by.

“I did a series of cubes with illustrations of silence leaving the cube.” These pencil drawings, which were shown at the former Galerie Neuartig in San Pedro maybe three years ago, are engaging, puzzling, amusing, and thought-provoking. Think of sound as visual resonance. “The whole thing becomes this conceptual structure that you can move around, and you can kind of manipulate, to make people think about things in a different way. And I try to do that in my work.”

Some artists wear many hats (from French berets to Kentucky derbies), and Robert Wilhite is one of them. But rarely, if ever, have you seen hats like these.

If you go
What: “Lime Light,” opening and artist reception
Where: 13709 Cordary Avenue, Hawthorne
When: Saturday, June 7, from 6 to 9 p.m., and then by appt. only.
Through June 14
Info: (714) 345-5086 or thinhstudio.com

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