From sumptuous publications on some favorite contemporary and historical artists to original book projects by independent painters and photographers, multiple romantic and eccentric love letters to Los Angeles and to sneaker culture, quirky design-inspired fiction, life-affirming creative actions, insightful memoirs and biographies by and about titanic art world figures and more — here are some of L.A. Weekly’s favorite art books of the moment, perfect for giving and for keeping.



art books gift guide mickalene thomas phaidon

Mickalene Thomas (Phaidon). Beloved creator of obsession-worthy work in painting, collage, photography, video and immersive installations, Mickalene Thomas’ unmistakable exuberance of color, pattern, texture and empowerment have captivated for decades. With influences drawn from 19th-century European painting and popular culture, Thomas crafts a world of aspiration and confidence, built through the lens of gender and race, subverting harmful norms of beauty, sexuality and celebrity. This book is the first survey of her extraordinary career, and coincides with a literal global show, opening at Lévy Gorvy galleries in New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris.



Karen Halverson: Mulholland (MW Editions). Photographer Karen Halverson fell in love with Mulholland Drive in 1988, in New York City. That’s where she encountered David Hockney’s monumental painting Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, and when she moved to Los Angeles a few years later, she was eager to explore the real thing. Driving the curvaceous length of the road along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains for more than two years, the resulting book features 41 panoramic photographs with saturated palettes and dramatic flair. Along with insightful and evocative text by David Kipen, the book takes a 52-mile drive from PCH to the Hollywood sign, through the natural landscapes that define the region, to the built environments that shape its culture.


Blake Little: Primary (Independent). We are born naked, and before we start to construct our identity with, for example, clothes, the birthday suit is who we are. To be naked can be powerful, and it can be vulnerable, especially for the camera. Followers of Little’s nuanced male portraiture have long asked him to make a book of nudes, but his work has always been careful to stay on the thoughtful side of anything like pornography, so he took his time with this project. Shot over four years, both in his Los Angeles studio and around North America and Europe, this is his most ambitious book yet.




Hayao Miyazaki (DelMonico Books). For over four decades, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films have offered timeless explorations of youth and what it means to grow up. He is celebrated and admired around the world for his delicate and kaleidoscopic creative vision, unmatched craftsmanship and empathy, and the universal appeal of his natural settings and expressive characters, many of whom are strong girls and young women. This lavish new book marks the occasion of Miyazaki’s acclaimed exhibition at the recently inaugurated Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in L.A.




Sarah Cain’s Music Book (X Artists’ Books). A series of colorful abstractions painted atop a collection of vintage sheet music found in Switzerland, Cain’s paintings interact with the musical notation itself, as well as its former owner’s handwritten notes. Cain has been carrying the notebook around since 2008, like a diary, adding to it intuitively and whimsically. Questioning ideas of authorship and certainty, while beguilingly illustrating the unpredictable vagaries of time’s passages, Music Book is an extension of Cain’s colorful, pattern-rich painting but at an immediate and intimate scale.




Beyond Sunset: Strange Tales of Southern California (Independent). People come to Southern California, and especially to Los Angeles, to chase their dreams. People here love to reinvent themselves, sometimes too often. In honor of the region’s permanent fresh start energy, a new collaborative artist comic’s debut issue looks at Los Angeles as a city with boundless creative potential — and a lot of secrets. The series is called Beyond Sunset because its founders wanted to highlight parts of the Southland that are not the usual film and TV suspects, prompting the creators to tell and illustrate stories set in their neighborhoods, and the special spots that only they know.





What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle by Nicole Rudick (Siglio). Known for exuberant, large-scale sculptures that celebrate the giddy abundance of female energy and presence, Niki de Saint Phalle viewed making art as a manifested performance of life force. An unconventional, lavishly illustrated biography told in the first person in Saint Phalle’s voice and through her own hand, represents a unique form of collaboration with the author, as it assembles a gorgeously detailed account of Saint Phalle’s visual and textual works from a trove of paintings, drawings, sketches and writings, many previously unpublished, that illuminate the wellsprings of her radical joy.



Ai Weiwei: 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows (Penguin Random House). Ai Weiwei’s sweeping memoir presents a history of the last century in China while also meditating on the forces of light and darkness that forged his artistic process and personality. The artist recounts his childhood in exile, his decision to leave his family to study art in America, and his fraught return to China presaging his rise from obscurity to superstardom and activism — and how his work has been shaped by living under, critiquing and escaping into exile from a repressive regime.



Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis by Gabrielle Selz (University of California Press). A comprehensive and impeccably sourced biography of the most important American abstract artists of the 20th century, this book traces Francis’ operatic life story. Having achieved meteoric early success, his restless nature eventually resulted in five marriages, global travels, and founding a museum, a publishing company, a reforestation program and several nonprofits. With stories spanning World War II San Francisco to postwar Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles, Selz crafts an intimate portrait of a man who, “sought to resolve in art the contradictions he couldn’t resolve in life.”



Connor Franta: House Fires (Simon & Schuster). The bestselling author of A Work in Progress and Note to Self moves forward with his soulful new collection of stories, poetry and original photography. Humanitarian, entrepreneur, and creator Connor Franta challenges readers — and himself — to consider their place in the world. Writing about, “confusion and clarity, loneliness and whirlwind romances, despair and elation,” Franta invites readers to resonate with a young man’s reconciliation with the past, his search for purpose and the power of potential.






As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture). As We Rise presents photographs from African diasporic culture through more than 100 impactful works by Black artists from Canada, the Caribbean, Great Britain, the United States, South America and the African continent. As Teju Cole describes in his preface, “Too often in the larger culture, we see images of Black people in attitudes of despair, pain, or brutal isolation. As We Rise gently refuses that.” Drawn from Dr. Kenneth Montague’s Wedge Collection in Toronto — a Black-owned collection dedicated to artists of African descent — As We Rise looks at more complex, nuanced depictions of Black life.



Art in California by Jenni Sorkin (Thames & Hudson). A fully illustrated history of modern and contemporary art in California from the early 20th century to the present, this book unpacks the unique character of art from this place, from early photography and Chicanx mural painting to the fiber and ceramic art movements, Light and Space and more. With a thoughtful contextualization in social and geopolitical history, the book is an essential primer on what makes this place so special, even as we continue to evolve to this day.





African Artists from 1882 to Now (Phaidon). A highly anticipated survey of work by more than 300 modern and contemporary artists born or based in Africa, this book takes into account and embraces the current popularity in exhibitions, collections and scholarship reflecting a worldwide awakening to the sublime eclecticism of modern and contemporary African art. The project was curated in consultation with a global advisory board, and pairs its indelible images with supporting texts that explain further each artist’s contribution to the discourse whether through painting, sculpture, installation, photography, moving image or performance art.





M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles (TASCHEN). The magical mystery world of M.C. Escher (1898-1972) has beckoned artists, scientists, mathematicians, children and stoned teenagers for generations — spawning album art, films, posters and mountains of sundry merch. A new participatory book puts Escher’s impossible objects in your hands with some 20 DIY 3-D polyhedra patterns, including his mind-bending patterns and a lesson in the geometric principles behind Escher’s optical marvels.





Soled Out: The Golden Age of Sneaker Advertising by Simon Wood (Phaidon). More than a decade in the making, Soled Out collects vintage sneaker advertisements from the industry’s early heights. Written and compiled by Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, founder of the iconic Sneaker Freaker magazine, the book is absurdly comprehensive and physically gigantic — with almost 900 images. Featuring superstar athletes and cultural icons such as Andre Agassi, Paula Abdul, Bo Jackson, Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan, MC Hammer and Shaquille O’Neal, every page is laced with classic sneaker models, ridiculous graphics, and sneakerhead goss.



Andrea Palladio in Los Angeles (PAX Monographs/William Stout Architectural Books). A collection of 21 new Palladio-inspired projects set in present-day Los Angeles, contextualized with critical narrative and reproduced projects from the legendary architect’s own writings and archives, the publication directly engages with classical architectural history, but is really about today’s L.A. Through the lens of Palladian proportion, typology, and ideology, this publication offers a charming counter-factual timeline in which the 16th century Italian architect was somehow able to practice here, and what that might have meant for us.



Death by Design at Alcatraz by Anthony Poon (Goff Books). The Fountainhead meets Squid Game in this mystery of obsession and murder set in the fancy but cut-throat world of contemporary architecture. “On a foggy morning, a world-famous architect plunges to his death off a San Francisco cliff…” It soon becomes apparent that architects are being murdered at a rate corresponding to their participation in a commission bid to build a new museum on Alcatraz. With lofty ideals succumbing to greed and ambition, this allegory of the world of modern architecture is written by an insider of the trade — but he’s probably exaggerating, right?

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