Otherwise known as everything we swore to read this summer — but there’s still time! No books roundup is ever comprehensive, but this selection of eclectic and lively titles features books of and about art, creativity, poetry, prose, photography and design — especially, but not limited to, that which is inspired by the truly unruly muse that is Los Angeles.
Why I Make Art: Contemporary Artists’ Stories About Life & Work (Atelier Editions). There’s a school of thought that why an artist makes work is at least as interesting as the work itself. Whatever else, this is certainly true in podcasts — in artist Brian Alfred’s Sound & Vision podcast in particular. The book gathers 30 of the liveliest and most intriguing of these interviews, all from 2016-2020 — an especially volatile and surreal era addressed with depth and humor by artists like Gregory Crewdson, Jules de Balincourt, Inka Essenhigh, Amir Fallah, Dominique Fung, Vanessa German, Kahlil Robert Irving, Clinton King, Geoff McFetridge, Maysha Mohamedi, Hilary Pecis, Cauleen Smith, Salman Toor, Robin F. Williams, and more. soundandvisionpodcast.com
Thomas Mann’s Los Angeles: Stories from Exile 1940–1952 (Angel City Press). Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann is not the first creative giant to escape to the dreamworld of Los Angeles — but he is one of the fanciest. When he and his family fled the Nazis, they landed in the Palisades, among an avant-garde expat community that included Bertolt Brecht, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Susan Sontag, Jack Warner, Carl Laemmle and Igor Stravinsky. This new book details Mann’s immersion in the lifestyle, from the beach to the Bowl, with terrific source material and evocative, sophisticated illustrations by Jon Stich. angelcitypress.com
Izaac Enciso: Fifty-One Miles (SIE Publishing). Photographer Izaac Enciso wondered, what would it be like to see through the eyes of a river? The L.A. River, in this case. During a series of walks along its concrete banks and strange islands, Enciso picked up a cache of translucent glass and plastic debris, and made camera filters out of them. After that, his landscape photographs of the river were transformed into colorful, radiant, elusive narrative abstractions, episodes of collaborative impressionism that are both mysterious and firmly rooted in their place. Each book is printed individually and bound by hand in Mexico City. izaacenciso.com
Désirée van Hoek: Notes on Downtown (Idea Books). Sometimes it takes a visitor to see a place clearly, someone who can come and go, has a broad perspective, and an eye for tracking gradual changes that locals might miss. Dutch photographer Désirée van Hoek has been working regularly in downtown Los Angeles since 2007, witnessing its progress and entropy through a period of transformative gentrification — and the suffering in the shadow of the shiny skyscrapers. This unflinching portrait of DTLA combines architectural and candid street photography with telling details, abstract moments and dramatic establishing shots, as well as writing from experts and stakeholders. ideabooks.nl
Ave Pildas: Star Struck (Deadbeat Club). Hollywood Boulevard in the early ‘70s must really have been something to see. It was a vibrant, visceral place, with an edge and energy, and oh so much style. Luckily, photographer Ave Pildas was there, snapping regular folks and low-key celebrities, as they strolled and goofed, and touristed their way down the street, stopping to pose with the dodgy storefronts and dinged-up walk of fame stars whose names they recognize. Fantastic fashions aside, this monograph celebrates the precarious spirit of adventure that bubbled over in those heady rock ‘n’ roll days. deadbeatclubpress.com
Sant Khalsa: Crystal Clear Western Waters (Minor Matters Books). For photographer Sant Khalsa, it will never not be weird that there are stores that only sell water. And being influenced by serial documentarians like Walker Evans and Ed Ruscha, she spent years photographing their facades. The resulting classically black-and-white series taken in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California and Southern Nevada presents a survey of this specific vernacular of commercial architecture — but it’s also a prescient callout of capitalism’s exploitation of the very failures of energy and civic infrastructure, as well as the looming resource scarcity, which a broken system helped create. minormattersbooks.com
Amir Zaki: Building + Becoming (X Artists Books/DoppelHouse Press). Combining his interests in the fractal beauty of nature and the planar surrealism of architecture, photographer Amir Zaki’s new monograph itself has elements of the binary and the random. Constructed sculpturally, the book opens into a luxurious double-wide expanse that generates fascinating juxtapositions between depopulated urban landscapes and natural phenomena equally devoid of human presence. In stone and concrete, waters and sands, vistas and closeups, Zaki finds resonance and counterpoint between what we build and what simply becomes — reflecting not only his unique perspective on the world as it is, but teasing out the harmonies that hint at what it could be. xartistsbooks.com
Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect (Chronicle Books). Famous to most as the architect behind the massively iconic, controversial and obsession-worthy fairytale that is Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan was a prolific trailblazer quite outside of San Simeon. The first woman admitted to study architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first licensed to practice architecture in California, she is responsible for some 700 buildings that literally helped define what California would become in the modern era. This photo-rich biography draws on interviews, letters, and Morgan’s own diaries, which see her waxing poetic on the California landscape, struggling with family issues, and always striving to find her voice and make her mark. chroniclebooks.com
Norma Tanega: Try to Tell a Fish About Water (Anthology). Singer/songwriter Norma Tanega became well-known for her 1966 hit “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” but her creativity extended not only through years in music, but an equally passionate lifetime in the art studio. She received her MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 1962, a community she loved and where she remained a magnet of multifaceted creativity until her death in 2019, advancing gallery work, teaching, performing and exhibiting. Now a new book traces her life story, with a renewed focus on the exuberance of her chromatically intense, gesturally arresting paintings, alongside photos, illustrations, journals, and memories from Tanega’s friends and collaborators. anthology.net
Daniel Wheeler: Portrait: An Urban Tree Diary (Rose Gallery). A tree is a tree is a tree is a tree is a tree is a tree. Except when it isn’t. Every day for seven months, artist Daniel Wheeler drew a new tree. With the rapt attention to detail and difference of a portrait, Wheeler teased out variances in leaf and bark, cast and contour — and at the same time, this radical anti-smartphone, almost devotional present-ness transformed his consciousness. Part journaling, part field sketch, part mantra, as actor and nature-lover Nick Offerman observes in the book’s introduction, “This artist’s penchant for picking twigs out of the gutter and rendering them into heartbreaking works of inspiration or illuminating objects of delight or both at once certainly awakens my own affection. And admiration. And gratitude.” rosegallery.net
Augustus Britton: How to Kill a White Man: Words on Awakening. Firstly, we should say, there is no actual death in this strident, gritty soul-searcher of a memoir. Britton collects his recent short stories, poems, vignettes and thought-streams with shades of beatnik epiphany and Joyce-like logic, occasionally scorching, emo around the edges, and reminiscent in style of how Lost Generation writers set curious self-reflexivity against the backdrop of a warring zeitgeist. In the end if anything dies, it’s the patriarchal archetype of white, male capitalism, and its paradigm of oppression and exclusion. Britton, though part of that demographic, candidly puts pen to paper to chronicle his own existential journey toward something better, enacting this compelling literary spectacle with warts and all. amazon.com
The Steve Keene Art Book (Hat & Beard / Tractor Beam). The word is overused, but Steve Keene is a legend. Known as much for his “assembly line Picasso” routine of mass-painting dozens of works at once, one color stroke or detail at a time, which results in series that are both editions and all unique — and then selling them for like $10 to make sure everyone who wants one can have one — Keene’s cornered the market on the plywood masterpiece. Among hundreds of thousands of paintings, he made cover art for Pavement, The Apples in Stereo, and Silver Jews — but there’s never been a proper book before. Stemming from a 2016 exhibition at Shepard Fairey’s L.A. gallery Subliminal Projects, the book includes paintings from some very interesting personal collections, as well as commentary from Cat Power, Ryan McGinness, Fairey, and more. Keene lands in L.A. with a giant show at Palm Grove Social on July 28th, and a book signing at Arcana Books in Culver City on July 30th. hatandbeard.com
Aboriginal Screen-Printed Textiles from Australia’s Top End (University of Washington Press). A hefty, lavishly illustrated work of exposure and art history, Fowler Museum senior curator of Southeast Asian and Pacific Arts Joanna Barrkman’s catalog of contemporary Australian textile artists is a treasure. In tracing the evolving practices at five Aboriginal-owned art centers in the Northern Territory, from the 1960s to its current higher profile in regional and global art sphere, experts and makers discuss the ways screen-printed textile designs express the cultures, identities, and connections to the land and its history, as well as boundary-breaking collaborations with fashion houses and interior designers. fowler.ucla.edu
The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artists (Phaidon). Being a visual artist on the world stage doesn’t always translate into being an artist in the kitchen — but that doesn’t stop them from trying. This quirky, unexpectedly moving collection of illustrated recipes offers culinary creations by more than 70 artists, including Ghada Amer, Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, Dorothy Iannone, Ragnar Kjartansson, Nicolas Party, Zina Saro-Wiwa and Rirkrit Tiravanija. It’s not a cookbook, but its menus are savory and sweet, personal and global, diasporic, familial, conceptual and aspirational — and augmented with sketches, photographs, collages, paintings and personal notes that may yet inspire your next dinner party. phaidon.com
Wendy Red Star: Delegation (Aperture / Documentary Arts). Apsáalooke/Crow artist Wendy Red Star’s witty, deceptively chipper photography and collage work deconstructs the toxicity of Indigenous representation in American culture through a feminist lens, leveraging tropes of commercial stereotypes, conventional beauty standards, and popular entertainment against themselves. With biting humor and chameleonic self-portraiture, site-specific actions, and an eye always on the divergence between the truth and the official historical record, Red Star further highlights the ways in which identity is shaped at a personal and societal level by the agenda of the narrator. wendyredstar.com
Ryan Pfluger: Holding Space: Life and Love Through a Queer Lens (Princeton Architectural Press). In 2020-2021, photographer Ryan Pfluger set out to craft portraits and stories of queer, interracial couples — not only as an act of appreciation and advocacy, but as a way of forging deep and intentional human connection during a time of estrangement and isolation. The 100 color photographs that make up this collection portray proof that deep joy and abiding love is alive and well in the world if you want it, even — especially — in modern times that can seem to be about anything but. papress.com
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