Artist John Tierney is known for his beautiful, large-scale paintings of urban cityscapes and metropolitan architecture both new and old. Based out of Durham City in the northeast of England, Tierney has found his inspiration in the buildings and streets of L.A. for some time now, exploring and expressing the city’s charm as an outside observer. He has previously held two exhibitions in collaboration with Paul Smith, at Smith’s infamous pink-walled Melrose store. Following up on his first solo show in Los Angeles at Gallery Brown in 2017, Tierney returns for another solo exhibition at Maddox Gallery Los Angeles, the international art destination’s first U.S. location. In preparation for the big event, we sat down with the artist to learn more about his inspiration and gain a better understanding of his love for this city.
When did you discover yourself to be an artist?
John Tierney: Reaching a point where one self-identifies as an “artist” is a gradual process. Although I have had a keen interest in art since my early teens, it was only after I retired from academia and had an opportunity to pursue painting on a full-time basis that I used the label “artist.”
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Mainly from the urban landscape and people of Los Angeles, though I have done a series of paintings focusing on the desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. It is difficult to pin down definitively, but the inspiration is derived from an amalgamation of interesting buildings/people and the light. I am particularly drawn to contrasts between light and shade.
Who are some of your artistic role models?
The American artist Edward Hopper and the British artists Peter Blake and David Hockney, especially the latter’s earlier L.A. paintings.
When did you first discover L.A. as an inspiration for your work?
I first discovered L.A., in the sense of visiting the city, around 2005.
What is it about the city that drew your artistic gaze?
As a painter, I am attracted to Los Angeles because of the juxtaposition of light and architecture. The light has an intense luminosity, creating strong shadows and sharp outlines. The architecture is seductively eclectic, taking in old and new iconic buildings and a whole range of small-scale, quirky establishments. The latter and the urban furniture around them, may often be taken for granted.
How often are you in L.A.?
I visit L.A. three to four times a year.
How do you go about choosing a subject? Why have you chosen some of the subjects you’ve already painted?
In addition to the light and architecture referred to above, I am interested in subjects that provide a vehicle to explore the cultural meanings embedded in the urban landscape of L.A. David Hockney once commented that although he was born in Bradford in England, he was brought up in Hollywood. Not in a literal, physical sense, rather in the sense of sharing in and being influenced by a world created and disseminated globally by Hollywood.
What are some of your favorite subjects to paint in L.A.?
I have returned to some subjects on a number of occasions and I guess that this is one measure of favorite. These are Chateau Marmont and Griffith Observatory.
Are there any subjects in L.A. that you haven’t yet painted that you are interested in?
There are many such subjects, but foremost in my mind at the moment is Formosa Café on Santa Monica Boulevard, now renovated and restored to its former glory.
Tell us about collaborations with Paul Smith and his infamous pink-walled store.
While the term “iconic” may tend to be overused, it seems to me to be wholly appropriate in relation to the Paul Smith store on Melrose Avenue. This pretty in pink building has become a major example of L.A. street art. Large numbers of people used the building as a backdrop to photo opportunities. The color of the store and the effect of the intensity of the light act as a magnet. The store provided the venue for my first solo exhibition in L.A.
I have collaborated with Paul Smith on a number of fashion-related projects, with my paintings providing the image used on, for example, scarfs, T-shirts and shorts.
Where do you spend your time when not in this city?
Most of my time is spent painting in my home in the north of England. The rest of my time is spent in Finland and Philadelphia.
What can we expect from this upcoming showcase at Maddox Gallery?
You will see a lot of blue skies, plus some well known buildings alongside lesser known ones. I hope that my paintings invoke a strong sense of place.