A Pop Art Odyssey in Los Angeles / by Mark Gubb


Over the weekend of October 13/14th I headed off to Los Angeles to meet with Derek Boshier to begin the selection of works for his part of our shows at Mostyn next year and to talk about the project. It’s the second time this year I’ve had to make a three-day trip to Los Angeles and, whilst I will never EVER complain about spending time in LA as I love it, it’s a blooming long way to go for a couple of days. So, much of last week was lost in a fog of time-based disorientation (plus a PhD transfer presentation and a trip to London for the People’s Vote March) hence this slightly belated account of that trip.

As I say, I love LA, which sounds like a real arsehole-type-comment to type, but I do. I love the architecture, the sunshine, the pace of life - it’s a huge, sprawling, city but doesn’t seem to act like one. There’s none of the aggressive hustle and bustle of New York or London, just a bunch of folks seemingly going about their days at a pace to suit. Equally, that doesn’t mean the place lacks dynamism. I find it one of the most inspiring cities to visit, in the same way I do Berlin (another city that, on a day-to-day pace of existence level seems to be permanently stuck on ‘Sunday’.) Maybe I’m lazy and like laid back places. Who knows. Who cares.

As I say the primary focus of the trip was to meet with Derek Boshier, whose show I’m curating alongside my own solo show at Mostyn next March. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Derek back in 2016 when I was staying with a friend who moved to LA about 6 years ago and had become friends with Derek. He invited us over for breakfast and became very animated when I told him I lived in Cardiff, as he’d owned a cottage in Wales through he 70s and loves the country. That conversation sparked off an ongoing correspondence which has led to this place and the shows at Mostyn.

Friday night was spent dashing out through the thunder and rain (!) heading out to meet an old friend who moved there about 10 years ago to make movies. He’s managed to maintain a positivity about the whole thing in a city where EVERYONE claims to be part of the film industry and so it can, apparently, be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. He found out that a producer he’d been working with, who had gone a bit quiet, had been sent to prison by reading about it in the pages of an entertainment magazine. After 27 hours awake, I ducked out back to my little Silver Lake bungalow to attempt some over-tired sleep, with a quick stop off at Cruzer’s 100% vegan pizzeria. One of my true joys in life is checking out different vegan places when I go abroad and L.A. has an absolute plethora to choose from. Philly Cheese Steak pizza was my choice on the night and I highly recommend paying them a visit.


Saturday morning started with an essential visit to Moby’s ‘Little Pine’ restaurant, another staple on any vegan trip to L.A. The American biscuits with gravy and sausage is a joy of breakfast indulgence. The last two times I’ve been there Moby has been in there too, eating breakfast coincidentally enough. But this wasn’t just indulgence, this was also where I’d arranged to meet Derek and my friend Jonathan Griffin - now L.A. based for 6 years or so and still writing for frieze, the New York Times and other esteemed publications. He’s also agreed to write a catalogue essay about mine and Derek’s work for this show.

So, following breakfast it was off to Derek’s studio in Frogtown. Derek’s had his studio there long before it became the ‘hottest new neighbourhood’ referred to in the article I’ve linked there. So has David Dedlow of plan:d gallery - a space just next to Derek’s studio, who was kind enough to give us an impromptu tour of his current show. He explained how the name ‘Frogtown’ was actually the name of a tough local gang, but has slowly been reclaimed by residents over recent years. A real highlight of the show were the carved wooden sculptures of Matthew Rosenquist, whose studio is in the same block as Derek’s. A particular favourite was this one appropriately positioned in the gallery’s bathroom, just in front of the mirror…

Jonathan was also keen to show me the L.A. river which runs just near to Derek’s studio. I’ve already mentioned that it was raining on my arrival in to L.A. - something that virtually never happens and so pleases all L.A. residents when it does, less so a man who’s just flown half-way round the world from South Wales. According to Jonathan the river had an unusually high volume of water running through it as this time, due to the rain…

That trickle of water at the bottom of the picture is the unusually high volume of water currently passing along the river. What that does mean though, apparently, is that this area is particularly rich for wildlife due to the vegetation that grows in the river. So much so that someone’s dog had recently been snatched by a coyote I was reliably informed.

The day was then largely spent looking through Derek’s archive of current and past works. I’ll post a couple of images but, as an artist myself, feel I need to be discrete and respectful to the extremely generous access that Derek provided. We spent hours looking through paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and nothing was too much bother. His archive, as I’m sure you can imagine, is extraordinary and makes for very rich, if difficult, pickings. Some real favourites of mine were a series of large ‘99c War’ drawings from 2004, each one measuring about 2.5m x 1.5m.


Understandably, for a man who’s now in his sixth decade of making work, there’s an awful lot covered in the themes and subjects of his work, but something I feel a real affinity with is how he returns to the politics of the day. There’s a great ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ about Derek (not currently available to view unfortunately, unless you work at a university and have access to BoB, though there are a few clips on that linked page) where he makes a comment about making ‘art that’s political, not political art’. A sentiment I really connect with.


That evening there was an RCA Alumni event at The Grafton Hotel on Sunset and Derek very kindly invited me along. Knowing my time in L.A. was limited, and spotting that the hotel was very close to the Rainbow Bar and Grill, I made an early stop at the Rainbow to pay my respects to a bar that has played such a central role in so much of the music I’ve grown up loving. So much so that they’ve renamed the outdoors bar ‘Lemmy’s Lounge’ after the great man who would spend hours sitting at the end of the bar playing on the quiz machine (R.I.P. Lemmy).


At the RCA event it struck me what a wonderful thing it was. No disrespect to the universities where I gained my undergrad and postgrad degrees, but imagine being so confident as an institution that you have alumni spread all over the world that you can just organise an event in Los Angeles and expect people to show up…

So, to end the night it was a drive right back across L.A. to the Vegan Hooligans pop-up at Abby’s diner - a lovely traditional diner in Eagle Rock that gets taken over by the hooligans every night to ply their vegan trade. I went for the ‘Flaming Melt’ (one of they most popular dishes apparently) washed down with a traditional root beer (when in Rome and all that).


Sunday started off with a visit to Sage Vegan Bistro and Brewery in Echo Park, followed by a walk to the park itself. The building that Sage is in is beautiful, topped off with an amazing sign. And the food is great. As is Echo Park. So I spent a while enjoying the lake at its centre and daydreaming about a super-ambitious public project whereby I’d build a bunch of Silver Lake-style bungalows somewhere and use them as residency accommodation. If there are any major public commissioners reading this, do feel free to drop me a line to chat more about it…


Then it was off to Derek’s house for the day to look at the archive he has there, including an incredible collection of photos from his days living in the cottage in Wales. It was exciting to see more work but it was pretty extraordinary looking through the photographs. They’re a wonderful document of a moment in time, and of Welsh rural life at that time, and the fact that they happen to be through the lens of one of Britain’s foremost Pop Artists just makes them all the more interesting. So much so, I already think there’s another project in the photographs alone, so am in the process of following some relevant lines of enquiry back in my home city of Cardiff.


Again, Derek’s generosity was humbling, in terms of his time and access to his house, life and work. We unearthed some really exciting things too - particularly some photographic works that have only ever been seen once, back in the 80s, some of which relate specifically to his time in Wales. So, fingers crossed, we’ll be able to include those in the show. It feels important to unpack this relationship that Derek has with Wales in the exhibition, but avoid simply illustrating the fact that he used to live there. The quality and relevance of the work remains key.

So, after bidding Derek a fond farewell, that left me with an evening and a day in Los Angeles. I had to make my first stop a place called Vromage - a store dedicated to exclusively selling it’s house-made vegan cheeses. As with anything in L.A., of course the guy who runs/owns it has more of story than simply being of a catering background, so regaled me with tales of his time as a fine art and antiquities dealer as he made me an excellent sandwich.

Then, it just so happened that one of the presenters from the conference I was involved in, back in February - Michelle Cruz Gonzales - was involved in an event that night. It’s a bi-monthly literature event at a cafe downtown and this event was listed as a Punk Extravaganza. In one place, on one night, we had Michelle (who used to be the drummer in Spitboy) reading alongside the likes of DH Peligro (drummer for the Dead Kennedy’s, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nailbomb) and Jack Grisham (T.S.O.L) What an event! Couple that with the fact that Michelle’s buddies Alice Bag and Allison Wolfe came along to support her, I was in some kind of British-man-in-America punk-fanboy heaven.


So, Monday was a day processing what on earth had happened in the past 48 hours-or-so, plus a trip to Venice Beach to catch up with my old URRA Residency buddy Halina Kleim, who is actually from Berlin but just happened to be in town doing some research. I’ve been fortunate enough to do a bunch of residencies over the years and I can honestly say that the experience of the residency is one thing - great in-and-of itself - but the thing I really value about all of these experiences are the friendships and networks that are formed. I did the URRA residency about 8 years ago now and am still properly in touch with a handful of my fellow residents spread all over the world. This meeting also provided one last opportunity for some excellent vegan food, this time at Cafe Gratitude in Venice Beach, where I had the best Key Lime Pie I’ve ever tasted.


From there, I had one last visit before the airport - the Wende Museum - a museum that houses an incredible collection of Cold War artefacts and memorabilia and curates these collections alongside contemporary art. It just so happens that a friend of mine from the UK, Danny Birchall, has just co-curated an exhibition there. Coincidentally, I met Danny when he was working at the ICA and he agreed to be one of my American GIs in my performance ‘The Death of Peter Fechter’ It’s a really amazing museum, relatively newly moved in to this space. If you find yourself in L.A. and have an interest in the Cold War, I can’t recommend it enough.

Anyway, that’s a pretty exhausting and exhaustive account of my very brief trip to L.A. Suffice to say I’m very excited for the show next year.