Beneath the humdrum hiccup of her worn city streets, and above hills billboards that hover like visions from the sky- Los Angeles speaks. For Jay Brockman, Los Angeles is nothing short of surreal, a destination that he playfully describes as a collision of “William Gibson meets Miami Vice.” His cityscape paintings reveal his obsession with Sunset Boulevard; a curiosity that sends him driving around Hollywood photographing street scenes from his car.
A concrete jungle with no public transportation, LA was designed especially for the motorist thus traffic is an integral part of Brockman’s process. It also appears in nearly every piece of work. Often times, the headlight of a single car twinkles and nearly blinds the viewer, or cars are speeding out of the frame and appear as a single streak of black. Brockman’s sight-seeing expeditions reveal what is most mystifying about LA: for a city built on chance, it’s design is fully realized and made with the intention of being photographed. Whatever message is being uttered beneath our feet, it is the call of the Sirens for Brockman.
His child-like wonderment consumes him. This repeatedly drives him to explore the seeming endless city to capture sunsets on Sunset Boulevard. Brockman suggests his work generates nostalgia and comments on a collective experience about what it means to live in LA. This is a city where nobody walks and every available lot is occupied by a building under construction. He insists that there an infinite number of “stories being played across a landscape,” as if they were a film projecting all around us and it is only until one steps back for a moment that we can observe the narrative unfolding around us. A united force that captures moments experienced by Angelenos but never fully recognized fuels Brockman’s work. He sees his practice as a means of bringing people in LA together. It’s not just the nostalgia of work inspired by familiar city streets, rather it is Brockman’s skillful handling of perception and flatness that make his work reflect the way we see LA.
From a distance Brockman’s cityscapes appear photorealistic, almost like a silkscreen rendered from his digital photographs. However upon closer inspection the viewer can identify the hand of the artist through the integrity of the loose brush strokes. Brockman insists on making his work visually compelling by flattening the space, as he explains, “I like the illusion that happens. I see it and I play with that and I definitely like the hand to be a part of my painting because it shows a human being was there.” No one walks in LA and appropriately neither does Brockman, who previously lived in NYC where he worked on cardboard boxes before making the leap to canvas. The abundance of discarded boxes that transported soda and beer cans always meant that there was an available surface to work with. Mimicking the heavy layers of advertisements that littered bus stop and subway stops. After it rained his art would change. “Someone would come by and grab pieces off and then another person would paste stuff,” Brockman explains. “It’s this whole dialogue of people just on a wall…I always wanted to recreate that in a weird way.” The boxes are also vehicle to play with language as Donna Karan’s DKNY clothing line became Decay NY and “Emporio Armani” transformed into Poor Man. The work serves as a comment on the androgynous fashion models used to sell clothing and promote a luxury lifestyle. While the paper and message of the ads began to disintegrate, the boxes maintained their integrity as transporters of objects and ideas. Brockman felt liberated in the medium. He says it was “my punk rock art. I’m going to paint high art on cardboard boxes and the art world is going to scream!”
Inside Jay Brockman’s modest Pasadena studio, paintbrushes are meticulously aligned on a sheet of canvas on the carpeted floor and butterflies cut out from discarded paper line a portion of the doorway, springing to life. Using found raw materials including crossword puzzles, celebrity gossip pages from People magazine, postcards from his own solo show, and even correspondences with his grandmother, Brockman views the butterflies as a means to record objects he has come in contact with. “I was always fascinated by these things,” he explains as he rearranges a few of the butterflies to the wall. “What if you took all the scrap materials and made stuff? It’s almost mind-boggling to try to keep up with the amount of paper materials that you receive. I realized the potential for them and modified them.” The butterflies either attach themselves to interior spaces or balance delicately on a Coors Light bottle cap. In many ways they indicate the new direction Brockman is headed, not only by expanding on his Sunset on Sunset series but breaking away from the gallery and bringing his work outside.
Influenced by muralist Rip Cronk, who is responsible for nearly all of the murals on the Venice boardwalk, Brockman created Sunset on Speedway #1. The work pays homage to Cronk’s mural of Jim Morrison in the glowing hours before nightfall. Brockman celebrates Cronk which is part of the urban experience that he says exist outside of the gallery and affect the masses. Recently the two artists had an opportunity to meet and Brockman requested that Cronk sign his canvas, making the work complete. Currently, Brockman is not represented currently not represented by a gallery but realizes the potential for his work to reach people through the delicate form of a paper butterfly. LA is quickly disappearing from something real into a space increasingly unreal. All Brockman needs to do to remain informed about dominating cultural trends is look down the neon river of Sunset Boulevard. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “you cannot say or guess, you know only a heap of broken images.” Brockman’s cityscapes mend our fragmentary vision of the city into one that is ever more elusive.
Photos by and courtesy of Jay Brockman