art

ALEX IS­RAEL pa­rades his cre­ative ecosys­tem, like an art of con­sump­tion, at the Gagosian in Hong Kong , writes STEPHEN SHORT

#Legend - - CONTENTS / JULY | AUGUST -

Catch the waves with Alex Is­rael who pa­rades his art of con­sump­tion at Gagosian gallery in Hong Kong

W“WHEN YOU GROW up in LA, real life and the movies can get a lit­tle mixed up,” says the voiceover to

Alex Is­rael's teen surfing drama SPF-18. If you aren't fa­mil­iar with Is­rael or his work, it's im­por­tant to know how he looks on In­sta­gram. So he's chat­ting with Molly Ring­wald, Paris Hil­ton, Rosanna Ar­quette, Ben­jamin Millepied and China Chow. Then he's post­ing pics of him­self with Bey­oncé, who vis­its his Gagosian show in LA. There he is with Naomi Camp­bell and Kim Kar­dashian, with whom he vis­its the Los An­ge­les County Museum of Art. There are self­ies of him with icons such as ac­tor War­ren Beatty and singer Ste­vie Won­der. He posts pic­tures of Prince, Tay­lor Swift and his own at­ten­dance as a Belieber at Justin Bieber's Sta­ples Cen­ter con­cert.

Keep scrolling and Is­rael ret­ro­grams a photo from 1994 show­ing Brit­ney Spears and Christina Aguil­era to­gether. There's also a shot of him by a statue of

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe with the words: “Happy birth­day

Andy Warhol, Richard Prince and My Mom!” He posts art self­ies with lu­mi­nar­ies and art peers like Jonas Wood and Mark Grot­jahn, and you'll even find artists like

Ash­ley Bick­er­ton and Jor­dan Wolfson post­ing on his site, as well as the ever-present au­thor Bret Easton El­lis, with whom Is­rael re­alised a col­lab­o­ra­tive project for Gagosian three years ago. There's even a shot with the cov­ers of a few of his favourite films – Clue­less, Six­teen Can­dles and Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off, and a photo of Is­rael with In­sta­gram co-founder Mike Krieger. How real, or un­real, or ir­real, is that? And what is re­al­ity?

Is­rael en­gages and mines the “food chain” of show busi­ness, in­ter­ro­gat­ing and con­found­ing the Amer­i­can dream. He chan­nels celebrity cul­ture, surfer op­ti­mism, and the pur­suits of lux­ury and thrill. He ap­proaches his home­town with a cu­ri­ous blend of lo­cal fa­mil­iar­ity and an­thro­po­log­i­cal cu­rios­ity, and his work al­ludes to both Cal­i­for­nia cool and cal­cu­lated brand cre­ation – the up­shot of which finds him stand­ing in a T-shirt, slacks

and train­ers at the Gagosian gallery in Hong Kong on the eve of his in­au­gu­ral Asian show, New Waves, in May. The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes mul­ti­me­dia works re­lated to Is­rael's first fea­ture-length film, SPF-18 (2017) – a teenage ro­man­tic com­edy touch­ing on themes of love and loss, avail­able on iTunes and Net­flix, with the beat­ing sun and the crush­ing waves of the LA coast giv­ing each scene an ethe­real, nos­tal­gic qual­ity.

The film in­cor­po­rates the colours and tex­tures of surfing equip­ment, from surf­boards to slick wet­suits. To form the wave logo, pieces of neo­prene were sewn to­gether and stretched over can­vas sup­ports. Sub­se­quently, they were cast in fi­bre­glass and air­brushed. They re­call Ja­panese artist Hoku­sai's fa­mous wood­block print, Un­der the Wave off Kana­gawa (c.1830), as well as the West Coast artist and surfer Ken Price.

Most in­ter­est­ingly, New Waves marks the de­but of Is­rael's LA-based cloth­ing brand, In­frathin, with uni­sex ap­parel avail­able for sale in a pop-up store in the gallery's lobby. The line will also re­tail through var­i­ous global out­lets in­clud­ing Dover Street Mar­ket. “It's a life­style ex­hi­bi­tion,” this writer de­clares. “I think that's fair,” agrees the artist in his trade­mark shades, whose per­sona hov­ers some­where be­tween dud­ester, nerd, man-child and guy next door, with pro­fes­sional monikers in­clud­ing writer, film­maker, broad­caster, sun­glasses-and-fash­ion de­signer, and artist. Is­rael seems to be the con­tem­po­rary West Coast Andy Warhol of the 21st cen­tury.

As hap­pens with Is­rael, he takes a tan­gent, only to re­turn to the source of the con­ver­sa­tion. “I think of the wave as a sort of in­ter­est­ing metaphor. You can go with the wave or against it, or ride on it or against it. And you can gain mo­men­tum, do tricks on it, use it to your ad­van­tage. If the idea of life­style is the wave, then I think there's some­thing to that. I want to be speak­ing the lan­guage of the cul­ture of our time, and that's life­style. That's not to be­lit­tle, or poke fun or crit­i­cise that way of think­ing…”

It's one he so ev­i­dently en­dorses and es­pouses (See his re­cent col­lab with French swimwear brand Vile­bre­quin). “If I want to do that through ob­jects, and how they can com­mu­ni­cate, or the way a logo can, then so be it.”

Is­rael's ap­proach smacks si­mul­ta­ne­ously of the fa­mil­iar and the off-kil­ter. This show, which pa­rades a con­tem­po­rary instant-like­abil­ity, is to­tal eye candy.

The walls of Gagosian's art em­po­rium have been painted a sort of ter­ra­cotta pink-orange and make the space feel Wonka-es­que. Is­rael calls it “LA colour” and says the pal­ette comes from the film, men­tion­ing ref­er­ences such as Span­ish tiles found in court­yards. “It's about colour re­la­tion­ships be­tween paint­ings and among paint­ings,” he ex­plains. “You cre­ate rhythm through se­rial rep­e­ti­tion; again, it's like pop mu­sic, where you have verse, cho­rus, verse, cho­rus. There's a rhythm to the way th­ese paint­ings fill the space.” In fact, though he doesn't ac­knowl­edge it

(the in­ven­tory of his in­flu­ence ap­pears so wide-rang­ing), the gallery looks a ringer for cer­tain rooms in the art deco ho­tel Bul­locks Wil­shire in Los An­ge­les.

What's soon ap­par­ent with Is­rael is how fluid his uni­verse is, and how in­ter­tex­tual and trans­fer­able it is, so that each el­e­ment of his vis­ual vo­cab­u­lary may reap­pear, or be re­cy­cled, remixed or com­pletely trans­formed. He's a se­rial cre­ative – a sort of shiny, happy Pa­trick Bate­man mi­nus the blood, rodents and overly ripe French cheese. And he's to­tal pop in his art and mu­si­cal tastes.

Does he have a favourite pop song? “What in­spires me about pop mu­sic is that there's al­ways a dif­fer­ent one,” he says. “You fall in love when you hear a cer­tain song and you keep hear­ing it on the ra­dio for three months ev­ery day, and you think there will never be an­other one like it. You think, ‘ This is it, this is the ul­ti­mate, it can never get any bet­ter than this.' And then three months later, it does. That's what's so ex­cit­ing about pop mu­sic. It's like an end­less stream of cre­ativ­ity. It has been for as long as I can re­mem­ber. I grew up lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio ev­ery day.”

Talk of pop has him dis­close an­other in­ter­est­ing in­sight. “I'm not a real surfer,” he con­cedes. “I'm an as­pi­ra­tional surfer.” He also pro­fesses to get much of his in­spi­ra­tion from that other LA fix­a­tion: driv­ing. “There's al­ways mu­sic, so I chan­nel-surf the ra­dio when I drive. I zone out in a sort of med­i­ta­tive state. I think you're al­ways al­low­ing your­self to think about things in the car.”

Oddly, the gallery show fea­tures a life-sized in­ter­ac­tive pel­i­can sculp­ture sus­pended from the ceil­ing, which flaps when one pulls a chord be­neath its chest. Is­rael says the bird is his spirit an­i­mal. “On the beach, at dif­fer­ent mo­ments, they were fly­ing into the shot and some­times it was cool be­cause it looked great. I kept think­ing, ‘ This isn't co­in­ci­dence; this is some­thing I should pay at­ten­tion to.' It's a great bird. It flies up and down the coast and over the waves. It's also the clos­est liv­ing bird to the ptero­dactyl.”

Is­rael ex­plains how he hired a pup­peteer, but in­voked a fly­ing style redo­lent of Leonardo da Vinci's fly­ing ma­chines. They also widened the pel­i­can's eyes (kawai­istyle) and gave it a happy smile. And with the his­tor­i­cal, nat­u­ral les­son done, Is­rael scarcely misses a beat, and is back on track and on-brand: “There's one fi­nal el­e­ment to this show, which is a short video on Gagosian.com and on In­sta­gram. It's a lit­tle video, like a trailer to this show.” He ex­plains fur­ther: “It be­gins with a pel­i­can div­ing down to eat a fish, which cre­ates a rip­ple that turns into th­ese waves that travel from Cal­i­for­nia, all the way across the Pa­cific to Hong Kong, where they bring joy to the is­land. And why Hong Kong? Of course be­cause LA and Hong Kong are two dif­fer­ent places in the same ocean. They know the same waves, the same en­ergy. So that's the logic.”

Of course it is, be­cause real life and the movies can make logic of any­thing and noth­ing, both ev­ery­where and nowhere. “In Mex­ico in Fe­bru­ary, I saw this house that in­spired the colour of the walls,” he tells me later. “But it's not just art – it all feeds into this stuff. I was born watch­ing TV and read­ing comic books, and all that stuff as­sim­i­lates… Oprah, Michael Jack­son, et cetera…” And in the vivid, mul­ti­verse ecosys­tem of Is­rael, ev­ery­thing's

“LA and Hong Kong are two dif­fer­ent places in the same ocean. They know the same waves, the same en­ergy” ALEX IS­RAEL

Alex Is­rael de­buted his cloth­ing col­lec­tion In­frathin, in the foyer of Gagosian, Hong Kong as part of his ex­hi­bi­tion

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