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Photos: Joe Pugliese
Exquisite L.A. is a blueprint of a collective shape. Drawing on the history of the Surrealist Exquisite Corpse, we wish to create a communal portrait of the current Los Angeles art world.
Consisting of photographic portraits, and spanning a year of consecutive Carla issues, each artist photographed introduces the next, outlining their connection or interest in the artist that will follow them in the series.
Rooted in classical portraiture, the photographs presented capture the artists in a neutral space, isolated from their work or studio. Their individual gaze, pose, or gesture becomes a continuous visual marker for the exquisite corpse that is Los Angeles. Pervasive in these portraits is a connective tissue of words, invisible, floating over the artists’ bodies and united by a thread of inspiration.
For volume 3 of the project, we start the journey this issue with Friedrich Kunath. (This volume of Exquisite L.A. will continue through Carla issue 22.)
A black door. A prism of rainbow light stretching into the eternal abyss. The words: “If You Leave Me Can I Come Too?” Everything about the human condition seems to be contained in this simple 2003 painting by Friedrich Kunath. An image of pathos, heartbreak, and paradox, it is a beacon for both the impossibility and inevitability of death. In a world that often balks at the idea of anything overtly sentimental, Kunath mines the language of sentiment with the right balance of sincerity, emotion, and melancholic humor. In other words, he gives us permission to feel.
Born in Germany in 1974, Kunath is unafraid to renew the language of German Romanticism, but does so with a droll ferocity. His works are serious comedy—always leaving us on the edge of something, unsure of whether to laugh or cry. In this tension lies the almost erotic pleasure of his work.
We are now entering our third volume of Exquisite L.A. When thinking about who should start the thread, I had to think, again, of an artist that represents Los Angeles—one that speaks to it with the complicated love of so many of its residents. Coming here by choice, Kunath is not an artist of exile, yet I am reminded of the words of Bertolt Brecht, who compared living in Los Angeles (instead of London) to living in hell. As a London transplant, I have always smirked at those words when feeling especially homesick.
Claressinka Anderson on Friedrich Kunath
Kunath’s is the work of someone who is clearly not from Los Angeles but is still deeply rooted in its mythology, and the word “homesick” pops up often in his paintings. He can appreciate the city as only an outsider can: be enamored, seduced, and perhaps even horrified by it in a way that someone from a place—who is truly of a place—cannot. Kunath’s 2011 sculpture, titled The past is a foreign country, is a man in a Hawaiian shirt standing with an oversized glass snow globe on his head. Eyes closed and nose red, he stands rigidly in a forest of pine trees and snow.
Time folds in Kunath’s paintings. From Dürer inspired engravings to 17th century vanitas and Caspar David Friedrich’s cliffs overlooking a William Turner sea, centuries of imagery coexist on one visual plane. His work embodies a post-Pop aesthetic wrapped up in the spirit of L.A.’s heyday—the hippy hues, the white smile consumerism of the 1970s. There are snowmen with suitcases in the desert and an orange with a sleepy smile masquerading as a vanitas on a Malibu beach. In a 2013 notebook painting of a California sunset, shadowed palm trees stand dark under a setting sun whose center is a snowy mountain village. Like so many who come to Los Angeles seeking the light, warmth, and promise of freedom, there is always a pull to the past—to what is lost in the incessant, gleaming sunshine. And what is homesickness, if not missing yourself? If not longing for who you once were?
Friedrich Kunath on Tristan Unrau
I am always looking for where the work is in a person. It’s not often that I immediately see a palpable alignment between the artist and the work, and I saw it the first time I met Tristan, and then saw his paintings. I don’t understand what he really does in his essence, but this is exactly what I love about his work. For his generation, I think there is a problem with being overly analytical or having a too cool for school approach. Tristan leaves it in a space of ambivalence—there is subtlety. There is a bit of hopelessness in his wit, which I am really drawn to, obviously. It is a secretive wit—not overly articulated—with a weird mysticism in it. I have always found that very attractive because it leaves me a little bit in the dark, which I want to be when I start loving things. I don’t want to be on a leash. I am always for that balance. And he has that.
Tristan Unrau on Nevine Mahmoud
It’s not just surface roundness that turns me on, it’s the feeling of density, mass, weight.
Nevine likes to dance. I see her in terms of the verb, not the noun. Making objects in space, feeling the tension between a body and a material, enjoying the play between a body and a rhythm. Her desire to see curves, mass, and weight as erotic moments is infectious. Her impulse to share this desire through her work is inspiring. I think what makes Nevine a good artist is her compulsion to share pleasure. I feel lucky to have become her friend and am looking forward to seeing what comes out of her studio next.
Joe Pugliese, a California native, specializes in portraiture and shoots for a mixture of editorial and advertising clients. He has recently completed projects for such titles as Wired, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and Billboard magazines, as well as advertising campaigns for Netflix, Sony, and AMC.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 19.