By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Debra DiPaolo
NICK LOWE, 21 AND A HALF, IS IN HIS STUDIO explaining boy-oh-boy art:
"'Boy-oh-boy' was the title of one of Ry Rocklen's shows, and since then we've decided we both have a boy-oh-boy aesthetic. On one level, we're just using art to flesh out adolescent fantasies. But we think that adolescent boys' fantasies are important to the rest of the world. Our work is infused with youthful luster. We're not trying to critique any art movement. That takes too much time. Still, it's eloquent and formally complex. The art isn't trying to be dumb-ass. I think Ry and I are trying to make something perfectly imperfect. We take something ugly and make it look good. We take something dumb and make it smart. Stupid things are important. Stupidity is probably more important than intelligence; there's more of it."
Nick's rambling manifesto is interrupted periodically by the whir of his electric pencil sharpener. He's working on a 9-foot drawing of a snowcapped mountain. The icy crevices are littered with the frozen bodies of climbers. Goats scamper on the rocks. He's doing the entire drawing in graphite.
"I've been doing it for almost four months now," he says, "and I'm still not done. I don't know if I'm going to be done in time for the show."
The show is "Big Trouble in Little China," a three-person exhibition at Chinatown's Black Dragon Society. The mid-October opening is a few days away.
"Big Trouble," Nick says. "That's an adolescent-boy fantasy for sure. They always want to be the troublemaker. They want to be respected for making trouble. Boys get a lot of respect for throwing rocks, breaking things, blowing things up."
Nick's cell phone rings. It's Nick's fellow conspirator, Ry Rocklen. When he hears that Nick's talking about boy-oh-boy, he demands that Nick hand the phone over to me. And Ry starts talking:
"The job of the artist is to make something people can get into but without leaving their troubles behind. You don't leave your troubles behind when you look at our work. My sculpture is called Sleeping Giant. There's a sleeping giant holding a mountain filled with dark caves on his lap. The caves might fucking signify Afghanistanis hiding in caves. That's just a stupid coincidence, but I'm into coincidences."
Somewhat incredulous, I ask Ry if you really can make connections between his Sleeping Giant sculpture and international politics.
"Hell yeah, you can! I'm pushing boy-oh-boy art into places it doesn't belong. So this art is about adolescent angst. About the angst of boys. Well, Bush is just a big boy. Bush ain't nothing but a boy. The issues of boys don't go away when the boys become men."
Nick and Ry are part of what seems to be a Kobe Bryant effect in the art world. When Dennis Cooper cataloged the comings and goings of the "hottest art school in the country" in 1998 for Spin, he was writing about UCLA graduate students, typically in their late 20s. Nick, on the other hand, is still an undergrad at UCLA. Ry finished his undergraduate work last spring. Already both have a toehold in the L.A. galleries. Ry has curated a show at the Coleman Gallery and exhibited multiple times at the Hatch and Black Dragon. Nick has shown work at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and a drawing show titled "Battle for the Greatest Drawing in the World" that he curated for the Black Dragon Society will be traveling to Vienna in the unspecified future. The anxiousness, the stressful uncertainty of being discovered, "grabbed," by a gallery -- which Cooper articulated so well in Spin -- is notably lacking. Nick and Ry seem to be charging headfirst, with little consideration for what the art world thinks of them. Or perhaps that's just bluster.
Artist, UCLA art professor and Black Dragon Society co-owner Roger Herman disagrees with my "Kobe-effect" theory. "It's not like it will be high school next, and then it will be kindergarten," he says in his German-edged English. "This just happens sometimes. In '85, I had a really good class. Then there might be five years when I don't remember a single student. I mean, sometimes you just have a class that is really good together, and these guys -- and that includes Mark and Cedar and Paul and Felisa [Golamco, Bylard, Cherwick and Funes respectively] and Hannah Greely -- were more fascinating to me than the grad students. They were young and worked together, and there was something fresher and not as calculated. There's this energy they have, or had . . ."
"You can see it fading already," says Nick, who's been sitting nearby, listening. Roger (pronounced in the French manner) laughs, then starts in again:
"This art, it was a real free-for-all. There was lots of good quality, and they were not pulling all these strategic decisions like 'I want to elaborate on conceptual art' or 'I want to elaborate on minimalist art.' They don't have an agenda. It's all somewhat chaotic and anarchic. It was politically incorrect and silly and serious at the same time. I haven't seen anything like that here before. I see maybe relationships between their work and work I liked in Europe in the '80s, and I don't mean the Abstract Expressionists. There was this group in Cologne . . . Kippenberger and Dokoupil."