Artist friends, contemporaries come together for ‘Nepotism’

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Several Malibu artists, including Laddie John Dill, Lita Albuquerque and Chuck Arnoldi show work in a group setting.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

They say it pays to have friends in high places. And if you’re a friend of local artist Laddie John Dill, it means you are asked to participate in a group exhibition of contemporary works, slyly titled “Nepotism,” at the LA Contemporary-a gallery tucked under the shadow of the I-10 Freeway in Los Angeles.

Dill, a longtime resident of Malibu (he used to deliver papers for The Malibu Times when he was a boy), launched his career in New York City and was a contemporary of such influential American artists as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

“I’ve always been lucky to know some really good artists,” Dill said at the exhibition’s opening last week. “When I was asked to do this group show, I called some of my friends that I’ve known for at least 20 years. Some for 40 years.”

Those friends include such luminaries as Frank Gehry and other Malibu artists like Lita Albuquerque and Charles Arnoldi. They were part of a cabal of edgy young artists in New York City in the early ’70s whose work came to define Pop Art.

“My artist friends you see here are all people who’ve never done anything else but art all their lives,” Dill said. “They’re sort of how you would define ‘California artist.’ These are blue-collars guys who are workaholics who have a great work ethic.”

Dill included Gehry in that assessment, an artist who is internationally renown for his large-scale architectural projects such as Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

“I’ve known Frank forever,” Dill said. “And I would consider him an artist before I would label him an architect.”

Dill said that the California artists’ influences can be seen in each other’s work. Some of Dill’s own pieces reflect Gehry’s signature brushed-titanium effect, and Arnoldi’s paintings hint at Dill’s bold, angular imagery.

For this exhibit at LA Contemporary, each artist displayed an early work from his or her career and something that was created in recent years. The homogeneity of an era and a shared artistic sensibility is further heightened by the fact that some pieces at the exhibit aren’t even for sale; their display is meant simply to draw together the visual conversation.

Peggy Cohen is an art consultant who attended the opening and said she had known the work of the “California artists” for years.

“Guys like Chuck (Arnoldi) and Laddie all studied together and surfed together,” Cohen said. “They’ve been through recessions and stuck it out and still have innovative things coming out of their studios.”

The work of Arnoldi, a painter and sculptor, as well as print maker, is found in museum collections from Hawaii to Australia. He began using tree branches as a compositional element of his art years ago and jumps effortlessly from bronzed, stick-like sculpture to abstract compositional paintings in primary colors. Arnoldi said he and Dill have been friends for 40 years and he saw their art as an ongoing dialogue, with one creative form leading to another.

“Laddie was best man at my wedding,” Arnoldi said. “It’s an honor to exhibit with him.”

Born in Santa Monica, Lita Albuquerque has created installation art around the world, from Cairo to Paris. In 2006, she traveled to Antarctica to install her project, “Stella Axis,” on the Ross Ice Shelf. Pinioning royal blue fiberglass spheres along a vast landscape of white, the project reflected a stellar pattern barely visible above the horizon line.

At the exhibit opening she wore a necklace of tiny blue spheres, reflective of her work.

“I went to Lincoln Middle School and Santa Monica High School with Laddie,” Albuquerque said. “I think we all developed a similarity of approach that came out of that Malibu light. Laddie has really captured an era. The idea of a California artist came about for us in the ’70s, and it was all about space and movement.”

That movement is reflected in Dill’s brushed aluminum pieces. He said it was a medium that developed out of the burgeoning aerospace industry of the era.

“It’s aircraft metal,” Dill explained. “You use this big grinder to create the illusion of movement.”

The gallery was chockablock with friends and collectors of the 15 artists on display, and commentary ranged from bemused familiarity to enthusiastic surprise.

“Are those one penny nails he’s using,” one guest said of a studded piece by Tony Berlant. “I would feel violated, except that it’s so beautiful.”

Hoojung Lee, curator of the exhibit, said the show represented the best of the 15 “transcendent and visionary” artists. “After getting to know Laddie John’s work, it was a natural extension to ask him to invite his friends,” Lee said.

“Nepotism” shows at the LA Contemporary, 2634 S. La Cienega Blvd, L.A., untll Jan. 10. More information can be obtained by visiting the website: www.lacontemporary.com