Longtime Angelenos get it: We are a people with enviable natural surroundings. We are denizens of mountains and their valleys. We are suntanned creatures splashing in the chilly waters of the Pacific.
But while the clichéd images of L.A. seem to eclipse many more complex characterizations of the city, artists still manage to take inspiration from these surroundings in unique ways.
"Another California Day," a mixed-media installation currently on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, is Kat Hutter and Roger Lee’s own delightfully strange and whimsical ode to the region's physical appearance.
Hutter and Lee, who also own K&R Ceramics, met in grad school in South Carolina. The husband-and-wife duo create work that's heavily influenced by the places they live; they’ve spent time everywhere from Portland, Oregon, to Lake Tahoe to the Midwest.
Now settled in L.A., where they hand-throw and hand-paint ceramics in their shared studio, they often think about the unique terrain of California. "Another California Day" takes elements of California’s natural beauty and infuses them into abstract sculptures. Hutter painted the colorful designs on the walls that surround the installation, while Lee focused on the ceramics.
The bright colors of the mural draw the visitor’s eye in when she first walks into the space. The oval shapes, layered over each other, create a dynamic sense of motion and instantly lend a distinct sense of whimsy to the space.
The sculptures in the room resemble any number of things; for instance, the drooping form of one piece sort of looks like an indoor plant that spent too much time in the hot L.A. sun. Hutter and Lee wanted to leave the pieces open for interpretation.
“Initially we wanted to re-create an 'environment' for viewers to experience the earthy textures of the clay contrasted by the silkiness of the satin glaze, much like the rugged and seductive natural environment of the California landscape,” Hutter wrote in a recent email. “What we hope visitors will experience from our exhibition is to view our work in the lure of the seductive beauty of the California landscape.”
The artists created the sculptures on site, over the course of a week. “Another California Day” references the duo’s innate pull toward the “process of making pottery with clay and paint every day.” Bringing that process from the studio to the museum activated the space in a new way — and allowed the artists to engage with the room as a blank canvas.
“It is just another day in the office for us, which is another reason we wanted to do this installation completely on site, so as to treat it as an extension of our everyday process of production and the labor involved in that,” Hutter says.
The installation process turned the space into a temporary studio of sorts. Lee brought his “potter’s wheel, extruder and other tools” to create the pieces. He carefully crafted each one, putting the smaller pieces together to create a larger whole. Hutter painted the patterns onto the wall, transforming the space into a larger version of what she normally does at K&R Ceramics.
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Throughout the space, small bits of ceramic can be seen on the floor near some of the pieces. They contrast with the playful composition of the pieces, which seem pliant and soft from afar. Pasadena, with its fair share of natural life and classic buildings, seems present yet totally removed from the installation. Surrounded by the bright patterns, a viewer could imagine herself in a surreal land instead. It has a distinct Dr. Seuss–like feel, although the artists didn’t initially intend it to.
No matter their location, the duo continue to glean inspiration from their surroundings. And luckily, L.A. has plenty to offer.
“Here, we have found the spirit of the California lifestyle, inspired by the oceans, the beaches, mountains and the vibrancy of the city to be major sources of inspiration,” says Hutter. “We love the layers of grit, texture, color and passion that L.A. has to offer. We are constantly looking into art books, going to contemporary exhibitions and broadening our influences outside of the art world, and the state of California just has so much to offer. These are the things that make us feel alive.”
"Another California Day" is on view through Sept. 11 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena. (626) 568-3665, pmcaonline.org.