Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
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at Vielmetter Los Angeles
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Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
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Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

at POTTS
–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
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Reviews Children of the Sun
at LADIES’ ROOM
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Derek Paul Jack Boyle
at SMART OBJECTS
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Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
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Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
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Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
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Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
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Interview with
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Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
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at the Hammer Museum
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George Herms and Terence Koh
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Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
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Sebastian Hernandez
at NAVEL
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
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Joe Pugliese
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Rob Thom
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Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
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Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
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Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
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Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
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Laura Brown
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Sperm Cult
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Kahlil Joseph
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Ingrid Luche
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Matt Paweski
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Trenton Doyle Hancock
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Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
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Gertrud Parker
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Robert Yarber
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Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
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Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
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at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
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Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
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Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
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Aaron Horst
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Fiona Conner
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Show 2
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Deborah Roberts
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Mimi Lauter
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Math Bass
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
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Poetic Energies and
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Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
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Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
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-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
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- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
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iris yirei hsu
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for Creative Work
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Ali Prosch
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Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
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Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
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Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
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Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
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Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
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David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
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- Hana Cohn
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
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Julie Wietz
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at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
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Ravi Jackson
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Tactility of Line
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Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Object Project
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Lindsay Preston Zappas
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Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
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Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
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Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Object Project
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Broken Language
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Artists of Color
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Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects

Home
at LACMA

Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
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Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
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Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
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Letter to the Editor
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Jennie Jieun Lee
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Trisha Baga
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Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Generous
Structures
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
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Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
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"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
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Exquisite L.A.
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Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
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Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
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Karl Haendel
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Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

Ma
at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
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Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
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Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
at LACMA
Jessica Simmons
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Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
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Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
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Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
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Mertzbau
at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Non-Fiction
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
at REDCAT
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
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John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
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at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Reconsidering
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
at LACMA
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
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Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room
at LACMA

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
F.B.I.
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
and LOUDHAILER
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
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Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
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at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
at ASHES/ASHES
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Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
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at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
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at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
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Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
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Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
MEAT PHYSICS/
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
SOGTFO
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
@barnettcohen
Mateo Tannatt
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Jibade-Khalil Huffman
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with Julian Rogers
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at LACMA

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Art in Isolation
with Alison Saar

Alison Saar in her studio.

In the coming weeks, Carla founder and editor-in-chief Lindsay Preston Zappas will be hosting chats with members of the L.A. art community via Instagram Live on Fridays. 

The following was edited for web from an Instagram Live conversation on April 24, 2020 at 5:30 PST.

Lindsay Preston Zappas: One thing you wanted to talk about was how nature has been really soothing, and [about] finding a space for nature.

Alison Saar: I am really fortunate—I was raised in Laurel Canyon, and [when] we moved back from New York, we found a place in Laurel Canyon. Not only am I a mile away from my mom, which is really great, but we’re in this oak canopy, and there’s flora and fauna and lots of birds and wildlife, so it’s really lovely. It doesn’t feel we’re being shut in so much because we have this beautiful yard to be in.

LPZ: Have you been doing any gardening, or any landscaping?

AS: My daughter had [gotten] together a little garden and gave me the bug. We put in a little vegetable garden—we’ll see. We actually don’t have much sun because we have these great oak trees, so we’ll see if we get enough… you know, if we get one tomato in October or whatnot…

[Both laugh]

AS: We converted part of our garage into a ceramics studio, so right now, we’re trying to lay down some broken concrete paver so we can get a table put in [and] a little outdoor sink. It’s too hot to work on it today, but that’s in the plans. 

LPZ: Yeah, I know. It’s getting to that summer heat. I can feel it; it’s coming for us. All the artists without air conditioning in our studios… It’s pretty difficult.

AS: Yeah, it always comes hard and fast. 

LPZ: You mentioned that you’ve also shifted in scale during this time in your studio. I know, typically, you work huge. You have very life-size sculptures. [Can you] talk about how you’ve had to downsize or shift the way you’re working?

AS: My real studio is out in the valley in North Hollywood, [and] I’ve been trying to not travel so much, so I’m staying home. My old studio was in the garage, so I’m back in the garage, which is now primarily a print studio. I’ve got a couple of presses in there. Part of the reason I moved to this other studio in the Valley [was] not only because [it has] this big space, but also because I work with chainsaws and grinders. You can see this lovely neighborhood being totally destroyed by all of that noise, so I could bring my chainsaws here, but my neighbors would probably kill me. 

LPZ: It’s so funny because my husband also makes wood sculpture, and he does [use the] chainsaw in our backyard. As you’re talking about this, I’m like, “oh no!” I hope our neighbors aren’t going to kill us, but I don’t know. It might be a little more “live and let live” over here.

AS: Between all of the leaf-blowers and all of the construction, they probably wouldn’t notice. I used to work between ten and five, so I really shortened my time that I could work. So now this is great. Now, I’m actually making these little figures.

LPZ: So you’re just whittling those with hand tools? 

AS: Yeah. I got these brand-new little tools. Whittling is totally new to me, so I’m trying that. It’s nice to make these tiny figures. I can do it in the backyard. It’s not noisy. It’s more contemplative and chill, so that’s really been fun. I’m just trying to do little contained things, and it’s not so manic. I’m worried [that] with all this anxiety, wielding a chainsaw anyhow might be a little dangerous. 

LPZ: You said whittling is new for you. Typically, when you make your larger figures, do you do any small maquettes like that? 

AS: Well, I did do that for this Harriet Tubman piece, but when I did that, we basically ended up re-carving and re-claying it in its full scale, which was 13 by 11 by… I don’t know many feet. It’s huge. Generally, I don’t make little maquettes. Sometimes, I’ll do a small version of it, and then do a giant version of it, but I don’t necessarily consider them maquettes.

LPZ: Right. As you said, it’s such a different process to simplify your materials and your setup. I’m sure, how you normally work—it’s heavy, it’s big, the chainsaw, and probably there’s people helping you at different times. Now, you’re talking about this very simple gesture of whittling in the yard.

AS: Yeah. I’m finding it great fun. Within the studio, I usually don’t have a lot of folks. Sometimes, I have one woman who has been helping me for a while. I do all the carving, but they’ll hammer on the metal and things like that. Since I’m not doing any of the big work right now, and I’m in-between shifting gears—I’ve got some public pieces coming up.

LPZ: You have a show coming up this fall. Is it two locations, the Armory Center for the Arts and Pomona College Museum of Art

AS: Yeah, yeah. They’ve divided the show up. It’s called Of Aether and Earthe. One is dealing more [with] the earth aspect of my work, which looks at nature and a lot of these different water deities, [so] more grounded pieces. The show at the Armory is going to [have] works that are more metaphysical, or things that talk about expanding or transgression, transforming, and stuff like that. So it’s organized thematically, and when it opens to the public, [there will] be a bronze sculpture that’s out in front of the Benton Museum, which is Pomona College’s new museum, [and] my show will be the inaugural exhibition for it. 

LPZ: How has [it] been having this on the horizon and being forced to switch how you’re working? How far along [are you] in [your] progress?

AS: Luckily, I just finished the public commission. It’s still actually at the foundry, and we’re to wrangle a way to get it installed. The only other new piece that I’m doing will be an installation at the Armory, so I’m gathering material.

I’ve got the wood glued together, so that’s going to take a while to set up. I can then go back into the studio and start carving the bigger one. Hopefully, it won’t get too hot. I can work on that since everything else is on this weird, interim-hiatus space. There’s things that are going to all [be] pushed back, so we’ll just see how that turns out.

LPZ: Totally. It’s very difficult to have deadlines that are firm right now. I think all of us are trying to work with deadlines, project forward, and plan for the future, but it’s really difficult to do that. 

AS: For sure. We’re making this beautiful catalogue for the exhibition, so we’re pushing that through. At least that’s something we can do online between the designers, myself, and the curators. I think that’s pretty much done. It’s really beautiful, so I’m excited about that. It’ll be my first real, major, [and] retrospective-type catalog, so I’m excited.

LPZ: That’s amazing. I feel like there’s been a couple [exhibitions] in the last year where there’s an artist that’s split across venues like that, and I think it’s a really unique opportunity to present two dueling ideas together and reach more people. Pomona and [the] Armory both have different communities and education programs, so that’s really exciting.

AS: We’re hoping. But, by the time you’re in Pasadena, Pomona’s not much farther. We’re hoping people will, for one, realize that it’s not really that big a distance. I went to Scripps College, so I’m used to doing that trek. It’ll be interesting that they can bring students into Pasadena, and [vice versa]. We’re hoping people will actually go see both shows, but you never know. We’ll put it out there and see who responds. I’m excited. It’s going to be a pretty big show.

LPZ: That’s wonderful. So back to working small, and taking a break from all of that, in a way, or taking a break from the normal studio hustle. I feel like you’ve been making so much work, in the past few years especially—producing a lot! Does it feel like a welcome relief to go back to working small, and pulling the small prints? Does it feel like you have this time that’s a little more open-ended?

AS: It has been three years of constantly working towards shows, and the last being at Frieze. I had a booth at L.A. Louver.

LPZ: I know, it was packed with work! Oh my god. 

AS: Thanks. It was fun. But at this point, it’s refreshing to be able to go into the studio without a deadline, [and] without pre-set things that you have to do. You can go in and experiment, so that’s what led me to whittling, which is quite fun. Usually, when I make prints, I actually have professionals edition them, but this was an opportunity to try and do a simple print, and most of them registered…

This is the way I remember [how] art-making used to be, where you didn’t have any of these pressures, or a deadline for a gallery. So it’s really refreshing.

LPZ: Do you feel like there are things that you’re doing now, in this scaled-back, more free space, that might inform what you make next—as far as whittling and pulling these simple prints?

AS: Yeah, perhaps. I’m also excited because I bought a kiln a year ago, mainly for my daughter who works in ceramics. But for myself, I’m like, “that’s something I never really explored.” I should start making things and see what happens. That might definitely turn into something. We’ll see. It’s always nice to be in the position where you can experiment and get outside of your doldrums, but you really get set in your ways. 

LPZ: One thing that you mentioned in our emails [was] intimacy. I wanted to talk about that idea of intimacy and how you are thinking about that in this time of isolation [when] we’re all alone, but together, and I was just curious [about] what you meant by intimacy.

AS: In some respects, it’s just the intimacy [of] working in super small scales. I mean, this stuff is right up in my face. Also, the only people I’ve seen [are] my husband and my kids, who drop by periodically, and my mother. So, our little clan, our little circles become very small and really tight, and I’m fortunate, actually, to have that many people we can safely contact. 

It really causes you to—I don’t know, we’ve had some really great conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and it’s just been really nice. [My son] Kyle’s been working for me. He’s showing me a little video and doing some prints. He works in the film industry, so all of that’s completely shut down. It’s been nice to have some time with him to myself. He’s always so busy when he’s working, so it’s kind of nice to have that too.

LPZ: I feel the same way. I’ve been connecting with family a lot more. It’s interesting how I’m almost reaching out more than normal, and it puts interactions in a different scope. In my day-to-day life, I have a lot of interactions with people that are more acquaintance-level, or small talk type of stuff. I feel like we’re all connecting in a deeper way.

AS: Yeah, I think so. Every day, I’ll go through my contacts list and try to find someone that I haven’t spoken to in a while, leave them a voicemail, [and] tell them what we’re up to, what we’re streaming or what we’re cooking. A lot of people are doing some great cooking, so [it’s] really fun to share recipes. It’s been nice to [ask], “who do I want to be in touch with today?” I wouldn’t normally do that.

LPZ: Right. I’ve been also feeling a nostalgia for those people, too, and people from my past that I haven’t talked to in years. I’ve been thinking about and reaching out to them, and it’s interesting that this experience has brought some of that up.

AS: It’ll be something to keep in mind in the future, that we don’t lose track of that so much as well. People are so dependent now on Instagram, media, and all of that stuff. You know, I actually just want to write letters, but then, I don’t want to [jam up the] postal system either. 

That’s the thing. You second guess everything you buy. Is it really necessary? Do we need to have some poor fellow put this in some box with all this Styrofoam and send it to me? 

LPZ: Totally. I’ve been buying some stuff online, but being so much more conscious about it, [and] trying to source those things in a more sustainable way.

AS: Walking around the neighborhood, you see everybody’s blue recycl[ing] trash cans [are] filled to the brim with Amazon boxes, and I’m like, “[look] all of this.” I mean, we have [to pay more attention]. We should have been for a while, but it’s kind of exemplified right now.

LPZ: That’s been on my mind a lot… I feel like so many people have been saying, “I am loving this! I don’t want it to go back to normal,” and almost feeling guilty for that. You know, “I’m loving it too much. Maybe I shouldn’t be so happy during this difficult time.”

AS: Yeah. The two sides of it [are]—we’re really fortunate to have a home and all these other things—to actually have enough to buy our food and all of that. On one hand, it really is like a “staycation,” but we have to really recognize how fortunate we are that we have the ability to actively enjoy this time, whereas a lot of folks don’t. Again, I feel guilty about being happy making my little sculptures.

LPZ: I’ve been thinking all of that as well, but we have to find joy where we can: in going outside in your yard. Self-care has become much more prioritized for me in a way that I neglected before.

AS: —I just painted my toenails. 

LPZ: Oh, you did? That’s lovely. 

AS: I never [do] that. Maybe that’s too much information.

LPZ: That’s awesome. We have one question from a good friend of mine, Lani, who’s down in San Diego. She said she loves your work, and [asked], “Where do you go for inspiration?”

AS: It’s a combination of things. Sometimes, I get it from music. Sometimes, it’s from materials. I scrounge a lot of materials, and find a lot of materials, and those will suggest things to me or take me places. Sometimes, it’s the dark news that we’ve been having for the last four years, and I try to take that and turn it around to be something that can somehow point toward a lighter era at some point. 

Sometimes, it comes out of the news, things that I’m reading, television, or things that we’re experiencing with people out there. Even being rude to folks walking down the street, so sometimes that’ll take it in one direction. For Frieze, we made this funny little cookbook, so I’ve been finding inspiration in looking at my cooking ancestry from my grandfather and my grandmother. My grandfather lived in Texas, and was huge in barbecue. All of these simple comfort foods that also point toward a whole way of life for folks. It comes from anywhere. It can come from the kitchen, it can come from the newspapers and the radio. 

Alison Saar, Hot Comb Haint, Louella (2020). Wood, acrylic, spray tar, and found hot comb, 12.5 x 2.75 x 3 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

LPZ: You’re talking about these cerebral ideas, but also looking back at family history and things like that. Your work has such a physicality to it. It’s really interesting to hear how your inspiration might meet that kind of physicality, because the sculptures themselves feel so approachable, and physical, and open-ended in a way… I love when works can start with one thing, idea, or impetus and branch out from there and have dual entry points for people.

AS: Right… For example, these little pieces that I’m carving are half of what are going to be these hot-comb figures. I kept collecting all these beautiful hot combs, and so then, I was like, “what could they be? What could they turn into?” I was really intrigued by the idea that these figures were these spirits, and the handles—I used to love the hot combs with the handles which were always all burnt by the fact that I’m too close to the burner. I started to think, “oh, these handles take on all of this heat. I saw them combing out all of our actual wildness by making our hair straight or Anglified. 

I really like this idea that spirit and that power and that sassiness—that kink had to go somewhere. These handles absorb that energy and so they’re called [Hot Comb Haint]. They’re the spirit of all of that wildness that you took out of your hair by straightening it. So, they get complicated and they [mean] different things to different people. People [who] don’t use hot combs might have a completely different take on it, but it just brought back all of these memories of my grandmother’s kitchens, my mom’s kitchen, and even going with my mom to the hair salon. All of the gossip and the hair salon things, and how it’s this very social thing around fixing your hair. 

It seemed like once the deed was done, then you were like a prisoner to the hair that was all straight. You couldn’t go swimming or go in the rain. I love getting to that point, because it’s such a rich, social, loving atmosphere where people are massaging your head. It’s so [rich]. That’s one thing that inspires these wacky, crazy pieces. I never know where it’s going to come from, basically, and materials dictate—I try to do one thing with it, but it refuses to go that way, so I have to collaborate with the materials themselves, too. 

LPZ: I love that idea of the handle becoming this infused energy. Like you were saying, brushing out the wildness and then it gets absorbed in the comb. It’s almost like this talisman or magical object.

AS: I figure that energy had to go somewhere, so why not in the handle? Again, the handles, as objects, spoke to me. You could see the burnt areas where the grease is all gathered up in the comb. I also feel that way with skillets. This last show [at L.A. Louver] had a couple of pieces dealing with skillets too. My skillets are good and clean on the inside, but they have a history of grease boiled up on the outside. I love that. That’s cross-cultural—that is true for most folks.

LPZ: No, totally. I love that idea. I’ve heard in past interviews of you talking about using found materials, going to the Watts Towers when you were younger, and things like that really influencing your use of found materials and things that have a history and a past, and that [have] a use and story to them.

AS: Right. I always have a specific narrative to the piece, but something exists beyond. Each viewer can glean their own history of that and find their own confluence with that piece of work by their own experiences. That’s when it’s nice that art can have this openness… and this history to it that people can find a bit of themselves in those pieces, which is what I hope happens, [but] maybe not necessarily at all. It’s what I aspire to.

LPZ: Yeah. I think that’s really true. There’s something about the materiality that really draws you in. The physicality of it, which, for me, is accessible from any walk of life. The presence of an object—you can tell they’ve handled and really crafted [it], which brings so much accessibility.

AS: When I was in grad school, I studied with Dr. Samella Lewis at Scripps. They had a really amazing selection of African art, and she would bring these pieces out, and everyone’s like, “what is that surface?” These are libations–liquor, and whatnot, [and] palm oil. This laying on of hands, this adoration, and touching of these surfaces that imbued them with this amazing power. 

The surface is really important to me. My hands are all screen now, but they’re doing this: [gesticulates wildly]. Touching is really a [thing] that I understand. Unfortunately, in museum settings, the art can only be partially experienced, because going out there, touching it, and feeling it [isn’t an option]. Even your ability to put your palms on it is how these pieces grow and accumulate power. 

LPZ: In an ideal situation, would you prefer to have your works be interactive when they are exhibited, or open for people to touch them?

AS: I would, and that’s one of the perks of being in your own house. You can do that. There are some pieces where I actively encourage participation. I have some pieces where they were distillery systems, so you had to squeeze these little things to make the water run through. One of them was a boxing glove that filled up with water, and of course, it would never fall in the pan or in the bucket as it was supposed to, so it would splash. Then, people just took it upon themselves to take the map and mop up the spilled blood, and I was like, “oh, that’s really great.” They really became involved in it, and weren’t thinking, “oh, am I supposed to touch the broom now? Is this allowed? Is that allowed?” It just felt like they were into it. They were experiencing the work as it was [meant] to function. 

Alison’s studio.
Alison’s studio.
Alison’s studio.
Alison Saar, White Guise (2019). Woodcut, relief, shellac-stained paper, hand-tinted iron on Mulberry non-bleached, natural deckled edge (Blue Heron Arts), 55 × 27.5 inches. Edition of 20. Image courtesy of the artist.
Alison Saar, Kitchen Amazon (2019). Wood, ceiling tin, barbed wire, tar, found skillets, linoleum, and found chain, 81 x 21 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.