Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor
Vanessa Prager is an American artist, born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Known mainly for her large-scale, abstract oil paintings, Prager's main subject is the face. Perception, perspective and information flow are all central themes to her work, which became more widely recognized after her exhibition, Dreamers—a series of "imagined" portraits which cross the border between the figurative and the abstract—opened and sold out completely, in Spring 2015.
In January 2016, Prager's first solo exhibition in NYC, Voyeur, opened, with favorable reviews. The Huffington Post described the works as "densely layered paintings, with pigment applied so thickly it forms its own topography", elaborating that, "various strokes of color—a ribbon of white like a squirt of toothpaste, a sharp sliver of green like a fish darting by—come together to form different visual narratives."
In 2015, W Magazine described Prager's paintings as "sculptural" and that "nameless characters are barely visible up-close, but at distance they seem to rise out of frantic ether like ghosts." In 2011 Prager painted a still of Ryan Gosling, for the New York Times film Touch of Evil: Cinematic Villainy From the Year’s Best Performers by photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager.
What was the aha moment that led you to art... and did Los Angeles play a part in your career decision?
I grew up in Los Angeles so of course it played a hand in all of my decisions. In high school I was devastated by everything. I became convinced happiness was a fabricated illusion. Which is weird because I was a very happy child. Books are the first thing that opened my mind to art. Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, The Fountainhead, The Agony and the Ecstasy. Art as a profession became really tangible. I threw myself into drawing and realized it helped me process things. I came out of my teenage funk thank G, but I kept my love for art!
How has living in LA informed your approach and aesthetic?
I have always been inspired by this city. What used to annoy me about it became things I love. I paint colorful, dripping melting scenes of reality with thick sculptural paint. I tend to describe my style as maximalism. Los Angeles has a facade and an underbelly, like any good city, and with the bright colorful exterior comes history and experience. LA has stories to tell. My work tends in this direction as well. I paint portraits and figures, women mostly, with dripping red lips or overly chunky skin, akin to the excessive makeup or plastic surgery I’ve grown familiar with. People often have multiple personalities in Los Angeles, whether for their job or otherwise. Flashy cars backed by jagged cliffs, bright blue skies over a California poolside, the desert winds slashing perfectly done faces. These are a few of the things that inspire me.
When and how did you first feel embraced by our LA art community?
I used to have shows in unconventional locations throughout Los Angeles: stores, pop ups, Soho house, anything outside of the art community. Since I didn’t go to art school I wasn’t immediately in tune with the rest of the art world. I started really showing in galleries a few years ago and since then have met a lot of artists and been in a lot of different shows. It's a really great community, and with the added benefit of social media it’s easy to connect with people.
The exhibition speaks about the vitality of our art community. Which pioneering LA artist influenced you the most? And whose work do you find intriguing right now?
I've always loved Mary Corse. Her work is completely different than mine but she works with light and color as all painters do. Currently I love what Nevine Mahmoud, the Haas Brothers, and Shinique Smith are doing, to name a few, and more artists are moving to Los Angeles every day.
What is your favorite art accident?
While reworking some old pieces and adding more and more materials, I stumbled into the heavily built up and textured style I use today. In an effort to duplicate digital manipulation and melting hard drives I found my thick, dripping, impasto methods. Now I try to use every “mistake” I make.
How They Ran
Over The Influence
August 12 - September 5, 2018