“Myths, Monsters, and Legends,”the newest show at Rankin L.A., is the obvious product of two good friends completely enjoying themselves — if the two friends were super famous millionaire artists whose idea of a good time was to dress up a supermodel in enough prosthetic make-up so that she looked like a Wookiee with perfect breasts.
In fact, the collaboration between Rankin, a photographer known primarily for his celebrity portraits, and Damien Hirst, a conceptual artist known for suspending dead animals in formaldehyde, makes perfect sense. Alike in age, working class British backgrounds, artistic education, and, quite frankly, close enough in looks to be related, the two men have experienced a near simultaneous trajectory of success.
From their cheeky debuts in the early 90s, both have enjoyed an endless wave of mega-success and celebrity in the intervening decades. The approximately two dozen large-format photos in this show range from the sublime (a gorgeous Medusa with skin as luscious as soft black licorice, a satyr that would make Matthew Barney proud) to the downright spooky (see: Wookiee boobs, below), and are technically exquisite and deliciously layered in meaning.
And it's a fun time, too. Perhaps what reads on the walls is a sense that this collaboration gave the friends something different to work on outside of their respective schticks: Rankin, a break from making models look conventionally pretty, and Hirst, relief from his staggeringly expensive, large-scale installations.
Since opening his eponymous Hollywood gallery earlier this year, Rankin divides his time between London and LA. He discusses his “second home” in the City of Angels, his personal monsters, and his friendship with Hirst.
The title “Myths, Monsters, and Legends” plays particularly well in L.A. in light of its obsession with Hollywood and the celebrity machine. Was the intention always to show in L.A.? Does L.A. lend this show another layer of meaning?
The intention was always to show it in L.A., but I think that every major city has its share of myths, monsters and legends. L.A. in particular. A lot of people think that L.A. is quite a shallow place to live and work, but I've always found that when you scratch the surface, there is a lot more going on than many cities. I treat L.A. as a second home — I always feel very comfortable there, and it's where quite a few of the shoots took place, so it felt appropriate for that reason also.
Since you've spent a great deal of time in Los Angeles, what are some of the L.A. “myths” that you have dispelled…or confirmed?
There are a lot of beautiful people in L.A., is something that is very evident on the surface. But it also has an incredible creative streak, from art to literature, and obviously film. I think that it's too easy to categorize Los Angeles in the way that most people do.
>Everyone has a tiny bit of monster inside of him. What qualities in other people do you find particularly monstrous? Do you have any qualities yourself that you find occasionally odious? Does it ever manifest itself in your work (for better or for worse)?
I think that stupidity and ignorance are my two pet hates. I hate dealing with people who are incompetent, and don't put much thought into the way that they deal with other human beings. In some ways, to be a photographer or an artist, you have to be egotistical. You have to believe in what you are doing, but be your biggest critic at the same time. If you spoke to people who work with me, they would probably say that I am very narrow-minded when it comes to creative projects. But if you don't attempt to get your vision into the work, there seems little point in doing it in the first place.How did the creative process unfold for you and Hirst? In what ways do your artistic thinking processes compliment each other?
The concept evolved from an idea that Damien had, which will be showing in four or five years. He had suggested that I work with the model, Dani Smith. Once I had done a couple of shots, I realized that there was more potential in the concept. I love the idea of taking something really beautiful, and making it incredibly ugly. I think that there is a beauty in that ugliness. My day-to-day job is about making things and people look good — so it was nice to jump out of that constant pressure.
Damien really inspires me because his work functions on two levels — intellectually it challenges you, and emotionally it touches you. Sometimes even like a punch in the face. I've always tried to create my own personal work in the same way.
The art world loves a pedestal, and certainly press/critics have bestowed the “living legend” status on you (and Hirst) for years now. As good friends, tell us something the two of you enjoy doing that proves that you're just two regular guys.
I think that we both share a love for humor, not only in our work but in our lives. We are both fascinated by the comedian, Tommy Cooper. Although Damien probably wouldn't agree with me, I think he's incredibly funny — he makes me laugh whenever I spend time with him. It's important to share humor in life. There are a lot of people in this business who take themselves too seriously and lack that perspective to laugh at themselves. I think that we both take our work very seriously, but not ourselves!
You have expressed a keen life-long interest in classical Greek and Roman mythology. Is there any myth that speaks to you personally the strongest?
The Medusa is my favorite piece in the show, because it incorporates one of Damien's sculptures. There is a sensuality to it, which I always enjoy exploring in my work. I also love the myth around the Medusa — the ability to turn people to stone, from living human beings, is a fascinating idea. I've always thought that it was like instant sculpture.
“Myths, Monsters, and Legends” is on view through November 5 at the Rankin Gallery, 8070 Melrose Avenue.
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