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Prodigal Son 

Aaron Rose is back, and he's brought his merry band of art-world outlaws with him

Thursday, Feb 27 2003
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IT'S 8 O'CLOCK ON A RECENT FRIDAY NIGHT, AND the circus is in town. Well, not exactly the circus, but at the 6150 art complex on Wilshire something unusual is going on. Scribble & Scripture, a new show at the Roberts & Tilton gallery, is much more akin to a "festival of the now" than your standard white-cube affair. Art-a-palooza maybe? Whatever you want to call it, it's going off. Tommy Guerrero, best known for his monster skateboard antics as a member of the Bones Brigade back in the '80s, is easing into a tune. Meanwhile, those in the know, like the dean of the Dogtown aesthetic, Craig Stecyk, and longboard legend Herbie Fletcher, as well as a parking lot full of lucky lookie-loos, take in both the cultural scenery and the iconic renderings of erstwhile underground artists Barry McGee, Phil Frost and Thomas Campbell.

"Three nights ago, I was literally having a meltdown at a Starbucks," says Aaron Rose, the curator and the man behind this evening's multifaceted affair of art, assemblage and performance. Sporting a coyly angled pillbox hat and a pair of well-worn Birkenstock mocs, Rose slept little the week leading up to the February 15 opening, and — judging by his rail-thin torso — he's eaten even less. "Just trying to make sure that all of this works out has been insane. Between the artists and the gallery and the parking lot people [a jack-knifed delivery truck featuring arte povre artifacts and stacks of monitors playing animated videos acts as a prelude to the show], it's been a lot to keep going. Not to mention that it's been raining all week, which doesn't help when one of your artists is working outside."

In these ADD-plagued times, it's a lot of work to be interesting. Back in the mythical "old days," all it took to have an art show was a jug of dago red, two berets and a spare set of bongos. Times have changed. The blockbuster mentality that has all but destroyed Hollywood has slithered out through the cineplex doors and invaded every aspect of our lives. Quality has given way to an abundance of fireworks and flag waving, making it more difficult than ever to separate the good stuff from the chaff. Thomas Campbell puts on an otherworldly display. Photos by Ted Soqui (top) and courtesy Roberts & Tilton Gallery

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Occasionally, however, this predominantly commerce-fueled impetus to "take it to the next level" does reap more noble rewards. The secret — as any good cook will confirm — is the quality of the ingredients. In this show's case, what makes it all so good is that the ingredients are more or less sprung from the same stock. Scribble & Scripture's artists have been plucked from a loosely affiliated group most recently tagged as "The Disobedients" in a special issue of Tokion magazine. In other contexts, they've also been dubbed the "New Folk" or "the Mission School" for the San Francisco neighborhood whence a number of them hail.

Whatever label you like, the movement's origins date back to the late-'80s crash that pulled the rug out from under the "money-for-nothing-chicks-for-free" mentality that had infected the institutional art world as much as Wall Street. The crash paved the way for a gang of DIY-ers that favored Dickies over Armani and ice-cold 40s over flutes of Dom. Following a decade or so of flourishing in America's underground kid culture, these artists (a roster which also includes filmmakers Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine and Mike Mills) have recently been making aboveground moves in the art world proper and in pop culture in general. Works by Barry McGee. Photos courtesy Roberts & Tilton Gallery

As is the case with their New Folk brethren, Barry McGee, Phil Frost and Thomas Campbell have been heavily influenced by contemporary culture in all its gloriously high and low permutations: skateboarding, graffiti, punk rock, hip-hop and fashion. Their work, rife with its raw immediacy and unabashed angst, began showing in offbeat spaces like Rose's Alleged Gallery in New York, Marsea Goldberg's New Image Art here (as well as the now-defunct George's on Vermont), and Lazar & Smith's Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, just to mention a few venues. In recent years, the movement has taken over some venerable, upscale stages. New York's MOMA, Paris' Palais de Tokyo and both the Whitney and Venice biennials all have featured artists from this hybrid hooligan school.

For gallerist Bennett Roberts, a veteran of the L.A. art wars, the desire to capture the moment meant one thing: "Basically, I picked Aaron Rose and he brought the rest," he says, sitting in his gallery a few weeks before the mayhem was to commence, underplaying his own conceptual contributions, such as radically reconstructing the space to suit the show. "I had been to his gallery in New York [Alleged] and we'd met a couple of times, so when I heard he was closing the Annex [Rose's defunct Chung King Road project space], I called immediately and asked if he'd be interested in curating a show for us. Suffering for art? Aaron Rose brings it all back home. (Photo by Ted Soqui)

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