Decay and regeneration both play prominently in the work of Fritz Chesnut, the latest artist to tackle The Standard, Downtown LA’s 6th Street mural. The cycle of life can be seen in a body of work that spans from tight, photo-realistic figurative paintings to his most recent dripped-paint-on canvas expressions. From his upbringing in Santa Barbra, to his stint in New York City, and back again, the artist now finds himself in the city where he started, or close to it. He spoke to Standard Culture about his latest piece …
Standard Culture: You’ve never done anything quite this large before. Discuss!
Fritz Chesnut: It’s true. This is the first large-scale digital print I've ever done. I'm used to working on a human scale, where I can physically control the paint. It led me to consider enlarging a smaller section of one of my paintings, which was great, because I'm interested in the micro/macro elements in my work, and how a small piece of work represents a larger whole. I'm constantly trying to replicate sections of my paintings so this was that perfect chance to do that in a large scale.
Are you excited to see how the mural interacts with the elements?
Definitely. To me this is the ideal context for art in Los Angeles. I like that it's not really in a spot for sustained viewing but in a spot where you travel past it.
What were some of the challenges?
Painting in my studio is like gestation in the womb, and slowly giving birth to multiples, whereas doing a large-scale print is more like having a surrogate give birth to Bigfoot. It's challenging for me to hand the controls over to someone else!
What are you trying to communicate through your painting?
I see my work as separate from communication with language, so I never approach my painting as "communicating." It's a very subjective thing, but I’m interested in making something both abstract and, in a sense, representational or mimetic. Paint in my work stands in for larger forms in the natural world.
Peak and Flow, Installation Views, Country Club, Los Angeles, 2010
You’re from Los Angeles. Are you proud of the direction Downtown LA has taken?
Honestly, I still feel like an outsider when I'm downtown. I grew up in Santa Barbara, then lived in New York through my 20s and early 30s, and moved to LA almost 5 years ago, and I still feel new here, especially downtown. I just heard someone describe Los Angeles as this city that you can live in for a long time and still have lots of areas that are unfamiliar to you. Downtown still feels new and mysterious to me.
Does that inspire your work—the decay and regeneration of a neighborhood?
Not so much a neighborhood, but I've definitely been inspired by places that are abandoned or overtaken by the wild. I remember seeing this amusement park in Asbury Park, NJ in the mid 90s where an old skating rink had turned into a swamp with a half-collapsed ceiling, a chandelier swinging in the wind and graffiti all over the place. Across the street there was a hotel with a brand new swimming pool with logs floating in it.
Experiencing these things for me is almost like an altered state. I think a lot of artists are drawn to those kinds of places where time and the elements have transformed something manmade into the sublime. A lot of them are gone now, but I have distinct memories of seeing all the dirty freeway murals downtown on drives through LA as a kid. Those murals were like markers that always told me where I was on the ride home. Totally inspirational.
What else have you got in the pipeline?
I'm making some new paintings and have a couple shows in the works but nothing I can put on paper yet. In contrast to this mural, my newest work is really focused on reflecting light.