As a lifelong resident of Southern California, Alexis Smith has said she considers herself a product of Hollywood. Her current solo exhibition titled “Slice of Life” at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles is full of examples of the artist’s incredible ability to remix the cultural detritus of her birthplace to find wisdom in the mundane.
The witty collage and assemblage work for which Smith is well known is explored specifically as portraiture in this exhibition. Each piece combines components culled from thrift store paintings, mid-century advertising, quotations from popular culture and, of course, movie memorabilia. When considered as portraits, they take on a distinct generational personality.
In “Image War” (2003). Smith pastes a copy of Elvis Presley’s GI Blues album over a modern image of masked gunmen seemingly about to storm an institutional-style residential complex. Text in the piece asks,” Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” At first this combination of images seems to serve as a reminder of the colossal cultural shift that has taken place since the 1960s. But then we remember that the image of the gunmen could very well have taken place during that same decade, highlighting what little bearing Elvis had (and continues to have) on reality in spite of his iconic status.
In “Degree of Difficulty” (2002) Smith combines images of Britney Spears, Shirley Maclaine, Pepsi, and vintage pornography. The faces of Spears and Maclaine as well as the genitalia of the porn subject are covered with geometric shapes commonly used to rate the level of difficulty in ski runs. Porn star being easy (green circle) Britney Spears being intermediate (blue square), and Maclaine commanding a black diamond rating. It’s important to keep in mind that in 2002, Britney was still a pop darling and Shirley Maclaine was still regressing back to her past lives. One can’t help but wonder if those ratings hold true today.
“Past Lives” is the title of Smith’s classroom-inspired collaboration with poet Amy Gerstler (and a possible nod to Maclaine). The installation fills the gallery with a wide array of child-sized chairs. Each chair is different and engaging and, anthropomorphically, can be seen to symbolize the diverse community one might find in any classroom. Surrounding these chairs are spelling charts, a chalkboard, a hand-written alphabet and wall texts suggesting sentimental memories of classmates or experiences. A text called “Seating Assignment” begins, “Never in doubt. Never repented. Never bested. Never satisfied. Never relaxed. Never said die. Never let his hair down. Never calls home. Never sober. Never recovered…”
“Slice of Life” draws an interesting parallel between what we absorb from pithy Hollywood characters and the degree of individuality lost to the traditions of an institutional education. All of this inspired appropriation ends up powerfully highlighting the failure of broader culture to capture the human experience. The show pulls the viewer in with kitschy warmth, gets us to let our guard down and forces us to consider a darker sort of truth.
“Slice of Life” will be on view at Honor Fraser through July 27th. Get to see it before its too late.
-Contributed by Kelly Inouye