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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Whitney Bedford

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Whitney Bedford is a truly unique artist. Her subjects- shipwrecks, pirates, and impending disaster, are far from the norm of what L.A based painters are doing these days.

In her most recent exhibit at Cherry & Martin, Bedford takes on one of the biggest celebrities of the roaring 20’s Harry Houdini.

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The life-sized images in ink & oil on paper catch the showman mid –escape, in his most harrowing moments. Some of the lines are so simple, yet there he stands before us, familiar & captivating.

Also on display, is a LARGE shipwreck painting, the sky boldly colored in contrast to the bright ocean, whose frightening waves of paint are about to make driftwood of a ship.

With only a few days left to catch this original exhibit (it ends on Sat. Oct. 27!); I was able to snag an interview for LAist.

LAist: After studying & living abroad for a few years; what was it about L.A. that made you want to settle here?

WB: I grew up on the East Coast; I’m from Baltimore, went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and then got a Fulbright in Berlin and ended up living in Europe for a few years. For a while it was a vampire-like cycle of snowstorms and vodka. Then I got into UCLA’S MFA (Master of Fine Arts Program) and it was the best program in the country at the time. It was an opportunity to study with some of my idols, like John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, Charlie Ray and of course Roger Herman.

So, I moved to LA for grad school and it was about the biggest leap I’d ever made; from years of Bauhaus type training and then the masochism of European history to the pop-fantasy land of LA: I was completely un-done by it. I couldn’t think of more different environments, but it was great to come here and start imagining it all over with all these histories behind me. It blows my mind that Stravinsky spent most of his life here and that Thomas Mann wrote “Doctor Faustus” here…

Now I live in Santa Monica by the incline, and my studio is on the other side of town at the Santa Monica Airport. For me, there are all these great metaphors involved in living on what seems to be the edge of the world and making work at an airport. It’s all about taking off and landing.

LAist: Tell me some of your artistic influences.

WB: Rimbaud, Turner, Whistler, Vuillard. De Stael. Twombly, Stubbs, DuChamp, Elmyr De Hory, Oscar Nieymayer and Burle Marx, Ronnie Biggs, Talking Heads: stop making sense. Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and recently Beirut, Lebannon

LAist: What is it about Houdini that inspired your most recent works?

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WB: Personally, I had just left my boyfriend, and my NYC and LA galleries, and the idea of making work about the escape artist seemed like a good votive. Professionally I became obsessed with the idea of faking it and also of the idea of the artist as some cult miracle maker/ star. Houdini was the perfect icon for all these things.

LAist: Houdini in mid-performance seems to be a theme in these works; how did that idea come about?

WB: I wanted it to be about the escape. The works are figuratively in mid escape, and also literally. The pieces are done with ink and oil on unprimed paper, so the materials are actually disappearing into the paper…

LAist: When did you paint your first shipwrecks?

WB: I started paining shipwrecks in 2003; right after my boyfriend at the time got deported. I was graduating from UCLA’S MFA and the country was on the verge of going to war. Disaster was looming.


LAist: What is about shipwrecks that make you want to use them as a recurring subject?

WB: I like the subject matter of disaster, I like to paint them as ex-votives of potential disasters (to safeguard me from real disasters), and I like the metaphor of these paintings in academia commemorating an empire falling. I also like the idea that I am using the paint to sink the ships.

LAist: Are there any current artists that you enjoy?

WB: Lots. Luc Tuymans, Gerhard Richter, Muntean + Rosenblum, Wilhelm Sasnal, Nigel Cooke, Francis Alys, Douglas Gordon, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jeff Wall, Doug Aitken,!!!, LCD Sound System…

LAist: Are their any future local exhibits in the works for you?

WB: Maybe.

LAist: Are there any upcoming art shows you are looking forward to?

WB: Robert Olsen at Susanne Vielmetter, Dec. 15th

LAist: What is your favorite area of Los Angeles?

WB: The beach and the racetrack.

LAist: I’ve been told that you love LAist, are you a regular reader?

WB: Yeah!

Cherry & Martin
12611 Venice Blvd.
(310) 398-7404

Photo of Whitney Bedford provided by the artist
All other photos by Jennifer Saxon for LAist