What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

June 22, 2023

Karla Klarin
Big Pink
Vielmetter Los Angeles
May 20 - July 8, 2023

Karla Klarin

A native of the San Fernando Valley, the painter Karla Klarin has been interested in the cityscape of Los Angeles throughout her career. In documenting her surroundings, Klarin sees the sprawl as abstraction and fills it with different colors that extend across her compositions in many directions. In her early paintings, she often captured expansive freeways and receding hills like in Valley View (1984), as well as modern high-rises like those in Monster Twins (1983). Her larger-scale cityscapes including LA Boogie Woogie (2022) and For Piet (2019) are, as their titles suggest, Mondrian-esque works with criss-crossing diagonals that reference the planes of a landscape that lead towards a horizon filled with mountains and the sky beyond.

The works that comprise Big Pink are specific. They explore Klarin's memories of a pink-hued house that belonged to her neighbor Natalie. In the earliest paintings from the series (not on view), Klarin depicted a typical Los Angeles tract home combining architectural precision with broad washy brushstrokes. The dwelling is a one story house with an attached garage and low pitched roof in Klarin's rendering. It appears as an array of rectangular, textured shapes filled with swirling lines. What stood out about this particular home was its color and she uses its particular pink hue as a point of departure in the subsequent paintings.

In the later paintings, Klarin delights in abstraction by allowing the planes of the architecture to morph into a more expansive landscape of interlocking triangles and trapezoids in different shades of gray against a light pink sky. While she creates both small and large paintings, it is the larger works (more than 90 inches across) like Big Pink LA 1 (2017), Big Pink LA 2 (2016), and Big Pink LA 4 (2021) that evoke the sprawl that characterizes the terrain of Los Angeles.

The thick black brush strokes that criss-cross Big Pink LA 1 are reminiscent of the freeways that cut the city into odd shaped pieces. While Klarin's works are not necessarily maps, they have a map-like presence with the paintings unfolding as irregular grids beneath an impasto sky. Klarin cites Richard Diebenkorn and his Ocean Park paintings from the 1960s as an influence and there are parallels in the way both artists abstract the landscape into geometric shapes and striations. Her pink and gray palette is also reminiscent of Philip Guston. While there is no 'real' pathway to navigate Big Pink LA 4, an area of dripping black brush strokes toward the bottom left of the painting suggests the on/off ramps of a freeway that extends along the diagonal of the two panel composition into a pink haze. The painted sections are assembled like pieces of a complex puzzle that are combined to create what Klarin terms "spacial vistas" and "gridded neighborhoods."

Klarin's smaller paintings are a bit more intimate and can be thought of as excerpts from the larger works. These numbered "Landscape Studies" range in size from approximately 13 x 27 inches to 25 x 53 inches and have the same colors and fragmented perspectival space as the larger works. For example, Landscape Study 88 (2018) is simultaneously a geometric abstraction filled with gray and white trapezoids of differing opacities, as well as a representation of a slice of urban sprawl whose focal point is the horizon line — where flat land becomes mountain and meets the sky. The large triangular shape that dominates both Landscape Study 125 and Landscape Study 140 (both 2020) recalls "sci-fi" excavations drawn in perspective. In Klarin's imagination, these are undeveloped and/or uninhabitable places, rendered in black and white and set against a faded pink horizon, foretelling the Los Angeles of the future.

Klarin has been a longtime resident and astute observer of how Los Angeles changes. While she portrays LA as a decentralized concrete jungle and a barren, people-less place filled with an uncanny pink sky above an ever-changing grid, it is done with admiration and respect rather than distain. It is clear that Klarin loves to paint that which surrounds her and to represent the sprawl as an evocative geometric abstraction.