“Apocalypse Porn” is the latest show of artist Sayre Gomez (American, b. 1982) at François Ghebaly Gallery in New York, stemming from a shift in the relationship between the artist and Los Angeles that favors a darker side of his city of adoption.
“There’s no pretty sunset anymore,” artist Sayre Gomez tells me from his Boyle Heights studio. He begins our studio visit by telling me to look up at the ceiling. Initially caught off guard, I realize that he has placed a TV monitor among the rafters. Gomez tells me it will screen a new video piece that flashes on and off, like a billboard ad vertisement for an accident lawyer. He says it’s a way to “disrupt the familiarity of traditional viewing experiences” and, at its most basic, a replica of a miseenscene on the freeway. The mirroring of reality, simply as it is, appears in much of Gomez’s work.
There’s no question that Gomez draws his references from his immediate surroundings: The 110 freeway overpass, the LA River, the Chicano murals outside his studio. These are scenes are so realistically depicted in Gomez’s oeuvre that a geographically inclined Angeleno could drop a pin on their locations.
Interestingly, Gomez is not a local, nor is he necessarily obsessed with the “idea” of Los Angeles, like so many that flock here to chase a dream. Born and raised in Chicago, he moved to the sun soaked city to attend graduate school at CalArts. Confronted with the glaring reality of the city’s “false promise” as he calls it, both in school and the world outside, Gomez’s paintings serve as his out sider’s cultural commentary on the glaring socioeconomic inequal ities of the city that only seem to worsen by the day. The city’s stratification of wealth and the current housing crisis are blatant issues that force the question of just what the city is doing to help.
Venice Beach is interesting because when I first moved here, it was still kind of rough, and then it got extremely fancy. This juxtaposition of class and those collisions—I’ve always been interested in how to incorporate contradiction as a subtext.
With an attention to detail that is hyperreal to the point of becoming unsettling, a painting of a storefront is drawn to scale, with window signage and doors so realistic it often fools its creator. “I look at it from far away and I’m always like, why am I not reflecting?”Gomez says. Using a range of airbrush and print techniques that stem from his training in design, both the internalized and observed anxiety of LA’s nomadic displacement readily appears in his work.
For his recent solo show, at Francois Ghebaly in New York, an image of a bombedout RV titled Aloha depicts a scene so violent it could be a war zone. But no, “this is just Los Angeles,” Gomez seems to be saying. The vehicle’s charred remains are left behind as a sinister memorial, a stark contrast to the oncecheery Tiki bar behind it.
Quoting standup comedian Eddie Pepitone, Gomez asks, “When the fuck did murder become entertainment?” His paintings echo this sentiment, with phrases like “Entertainment Tonight” written on an image of a demolished vehicle.
The Ghebaly show, titled “Apocalypse Porn,” signals a departure from Gomez’s previous work, as he moves away from his sig nature scenic backdrops of sunset skies imbued with an underly ing optimism. His paintings now turn towards reality and make no attempt to sugarcoat his environment with feigned positivity. It begs the question, are these paintings cynical, or is this just the state of the world? Perhaps they’re meant to be mirrors for us to take a closer look at the world outside and ask whether we’re actually consciously aware or just complicit bystanders.
my aunt gave me this book on Chicano muralists. When I moved into this building, I recognized a lot of those murals from when I was 12 years old. I ended up using one in a painting. I know that I’m not unique and that I’m complicit in this system that uses artists to start gentrification.