Every so often one finds a treasure amidst trash. The premise of La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles evokes the treasure hunter in us all, even if the art it presents isn’t always a gem. Located in the center of a larger, brightly colored shop filled with artsy odds and ends, the 22-year-old Low-Brow mainstay run by art guru Billy Shire continues to deliver new artists to a dedicated and appreciative public. This month a recent transplant from San Francisco, Anne Faith Nicholls, has her first Los Angeles solo show, “Neofolk.”
The aptly titled display of folksy, urban-influenced oil and mixed media paintings can be best described as cute and streamlined. The fare has stereotypically Low Brow characteristics such as an overload of tattoo-style swallows, five-point stars, poster-style letters and spray-paint drips. This borderline formulaic use of symbols is paired with an illustrative, flat perspective, and a compositional symmetry that all contribute to a design-oriented feel. Although the surface of the medium-sized canvases lacks texture, an illusion of layered media is created by painting images one-over-the-other. While there is no actual collage, the works definitely display a collage aesthetic.
Aside from the predictable application of swallows and paint drips, Nicholls’s distinct point of view shows through in her fusion of a whimsical folk-based style with urban landscapes and throw-backs to street art. Some elements are reminiscent of turn-of-the-last-century relics of pop culture, such as black paper silhouettes and ornate Victorian-style patterns, while emblems of 1950s California beach-culture make frequent appearances and a general “vintage” vibe dominates. Contemporary components are also easily identifiable, such as tattoo designs, clusters of modernistic skyscrapers, and an abundant use of spray-paint.
Described by the artist in the press release as “unapologetically autobiographical,” the content outlines her struggle for identity in paintings such as Looking Out From Within and The Plunge. Nicholls paints herself in seemingly internal conflict, surrounded by flames, lightning bolts and storm clouds in disjointed picture planes. In the former, she is trapped in a snow globe filled with rain and a burning building; in a surreal touch she has the body of a woman and the head of a pigeon. Dream-like fragmentation underlies the body of work as a whole, adding to Nicholls’s diverse pool of sources and her identification with the Pop Surrealist/Low-Brow movement.
The outcome of the amalgamation of old and new pop symbolism is a quaint and personable aesthetic that fits well in La Luz de Jesus’s low-key setting. Nicholls is not ready to show, however, at Shire’s bigger and more professional gallery in Los Angeles, Billy Shire Fine Arts. The artist has not ventured outside of using simple aesthetic equations set by the Low Brow movement, making it apparent that her art benefits greatly from being presented amidst the fantastic ambience of La Luz’s surrounding shop. Her paintings would gain strength if they were to express her own emotional reality without clinging to familiar symbols and techniques, a practice that is holding Nicholls’s back from growing as an artist.