It was an old-fashioned thing—not like a beam balance, but pre-digital—the kind you can cheat if you shift your weight—a little less, a little more. It was square and heavy, despite looking plasticky, with a gently-etched non-slip surface, buffed down to a dull white from years of step-ons and step-offs, all in the service of answering a single, pedantic question: what does it weigh?
It may seem crazy that among all the possible flora—let’s see—the black, heat-melted cactus blossoms—the limp, faded bok choy—the putrid, buzzing lemons—that I’d open an essay on David Aguirre’s work by describing something so not-from-nature. It’s true that all things natural bleed through David’s work—he loves the color blue, especially in its most watery iteration; he loves hiking, and walks that are so tedious and sweat-inducing that they’re practically marches; he loves clay—its weird, wet lumpiness, its ability to go from coil, to mountain, to bead; that it can hold things. He loves fruit. And while a significant portion of his artwork ended up being scavenged, more or less, from my yard, (you should have seen me—shaking my little fist at David as he stood under my lemon tree, picking the hard, green lemons-to-be— “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled at him), there were many nights when I gazed out over the back deck to see the studio glowing, David bent over one of his many work surfaces, slapping or rolling or smoothing the clay—he was The Artist, if ever there was one. The next morning would be a near-cornucopia. It was something to behold.
The early days of his residency were occupied with building and stretching a series of large (but not huge) rectangular canvases and hanging them in a row on the back wall of the studio. These ended up as light, ethereal paintings in colors that reminded me of swimming pools—translucent, gentle—they sort of, acquiesce. Blues, aquas, teals, surrounded by browns, ochres, and other colors reminiscent of sky and earth—the kinds of colors in scenic painting kits. On top of these swathes David would paint a few fruits: a banana bunch in yellows and greens, a red apple. I’m still not really sure what to make of these paintings (David explained that they were like faces); they certainly functioned as a kind of marked exhalation from his previous work, which embraced the crass, shiny, wince-inducing elements of pop culture, rather than a tranquil, vegetal state of nature. In later iterations, these paintings received more embellishment—ceramic medallions, clothespins, little bits of nature stuff. Oranges. I’ve learned that David’s is an additive process.
If the first few months of the residency were a study in focused energy—painting as an iterative practice invested in exploring a singular theme and form—then the second half embraced a more punk-rock, fuck-it-up mentality—a dizzying, fruit-fueled, clay-slinging, assemblage-ing, found-object, sculptural extravaganza raging from dusk til’ dawn. In my version of the art fantasy, it was one of our meetings that catalyzed David’s practice; but regardless of what spirit moved him, he was certainly possessed, ending his residency with such a large and eclectic body of brand-new work that I had to ground myself with the one object I was already familiar with.
I still don’t know if it has a title. When I saw it, I loved it instantly. My old scale, the one I had used to weigh plaster, clay, boxes—which had been tucked inside an open shelf—had migrated to the ground. On it, David had placed two things: a little hand-painted cut-out of the Earth, and a rather large foot, made of blue painter’s tape. The foot itself was a gnarly thing, maybe an ogre’s foot, with a fat arch and stubby, splayed-out toes. It was mottled with clay, as if it had been intended as an armature, or escaped some dank, enclosed space. A foot and an Earth on a scale. Not an additive gesture—a simple one.
Something special about this artwork is that I don’t need to explain it. It’s visceral and immediate, instantly calling forth our own ubiquitous experience to this object of fraught relationships. It’s also all the special art words—oh, indexical, symbolic, metaphorical, maybe even metonymic; it has a telescoping effect on our human scale, and we are at once the ones tipping that scale, but also made small by it, all while comprehending the weight of the world that sits on top of it. It is an artwork that spews forth a hundred adages, expressions, puns; it’s a thesaurus in a neat little square; it’s a reminder; it’s a silly thing; it makes us laugh, while it is somehow just serious enough. It has such a pleasing combination of artifice, with the painted Earth on paper, and then the sculpted, clunky tape-foot, and then the found scale—it’s real, you could step on it—you already have. It’s a thing of history, picturing Atlas battling the Olympians, the old world versus the new, those poetic scales of justice. Those are a few of the things I like about it. I could go on.
If you missed David’s open studio, then you won’t understand how different this artwork was from the others. There was a clothing rack on wheels wrapped in plaster, the central armature on which a plethora of items were affixed—clay tulipiere, bok choy leaves clipped into a multi-pronged hanger (it looked like a chandelier), clay faces, those thin, paper beauty masks, more limbs made of tape—there was a five-gallon-bucket-turned-swamp-cooler, and a fountain made out of what I think was a black rubber bed pan, pumping with filthy black water that splashed across the studio wall. There were books and notebooks, a pile of fruit drawings, and a jumble of ceramic coils that looked like a sharp nest of snakes. There were things that were beautiful, and things that were ugly, and my big, sweet, delicious lemons rotting in a plastic bag that hung from the ceiling.
After David moved out, he left behind two artworks and a note. One artwork was for Sarah—a cone-like ceramic planter on a rubber yellow chain (he knows how much she loves gardening). One was for me—another simpler, gentler artwork—a small, layered, mixed-media drawing on paper. At the bottom of this paper is a little grid, with David’s signature blue-tape-bits and fruits; above that is a soft, smudgy drawing of a globe with what looks like an organ sack, or perhaps a placenta, hanging from it, all reminiscent of a hot-air balloon. Above that is a small graph-paper-like grid, almost like a blank area to write-in your own something; and hovering above the grid, the word Monday, written in bubble letters, floats in a hazy pink cloud. Around the edges of the drawing is an almost imperceptibly small script describing the many anxieties of Monday; the Monday blues. I fell so hard for this artwork; I was so touched by its intimacy, its smallness—I swear, it whispered things to me; it seemed...alive. For all his artworks, with their over-abundance of nature, their flamboyant ephemerality—for me, this is the one where his spirit really resides.
The UNPUBLISHED project has always been an experiment. I continue to be shocked at how profound it is to share space with an artist in the midst of their practice. One simply cannot tacitly observe—one is sucked in, subsumed by not only the art, but by the artist, and ends in a boundless, amorphous puddle of thoughts and feelings not all that suited to committing to words. There are many, many more thoughts and ideas I have for David—some kind, encouraging, useful—others more stern, or unworkable, or across too many boundaries. Art is like that. In its wildest moments, we cannot remember, discern, accept, who has authored it—it becomes something that seems as if it is an obvious answer to a question we didn’t realize we’d asked. It’s part energy, part fog; part inspiration, and part total disruption. In other words: David.
David Aguirre was the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO artist-in-residence winter/spring 2019.
Georgia is a writer in Los Angeles. She is a co-founder of and lead contributor to UNPUBLISHED, a recent contributor to X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, and is currently the Review Coordinator and Writer for the School of Art at CalArts. Georgia also directs the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO, a need-based workspace and mentorship program for artists in Los Angeles.
Click here to read her recently published review of Matthew Lax’s Brunt Drama at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive.
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As always, thank you to Sarah for editing this text!
Photos by Cedric Tai.