On Friday, a group exhibition entitled Fragile World, featuring found objects, neon works, and paintings by five artists opens and is on view for three weeks at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills. The show features sculptor and video/installation artist Carl Hopgood, whose work uses found furniture and neon-lit messages of solidarity to assemble optimism through the quotidian.
From Cardiff, Hopgood emerged out of Goldsmiths College in London just after the Young British Artists movement of Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas had burst out from its art program. It was six years after the Freeze show in a Docklands warehouse put that gaggle of bawdy Brits on the global map that he earned his BFA. He was never far behind, though, showing solo at two Mayfair galleries just after graduating in 1994.
If “oppositional and entrepreneurial” was the Young Brits group’s ArtForum-coined descriptor, Hopgood’s own career has, in some ways, followed suit; this is work that’s “controversial and sometimes uncomfortable but always magical,” he explains. His arresting film sculptures exist in a blur, like his plaster cast of a sleeping man that seems to breathe via a 16mm projection. Hopgood has shown from New York to Australia and all over London, while simultaneously designing sets for editorial shoots featuring Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, and other era-defining icons.
Amid his ongoing group and solo exhibitions, one of his works, Digital Taxidermy, was featured on Project Runway All-Stars, in 2016. He’d moved to the Hollywood Hills by then, where he started finding inspiration in the everyday objects of our city.
LAMag: In your piece, Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places (2019), colorful neon signs dangle off a box spring; what is the significance?
Carl Hopgood: Years ago, when I moved to L.A., I saw many discarded mattresses and furniture. It was strange because it made it feel like a transient city where people constantly move. All these objects have a history, a memory, and a past. These inanimate objects hold memories where someone once had a seat on a chair or was born or died in their bed. I used the box spring because it is very much like a skeleton. Nothing is left; the mattress isn’t there anymore; it just disintegrated. I remember reading magazines when I was a kid about the supernatural and things that had just combusted, and all that was left was just the bare bones, like the mattress or a chair leg.
LAMag: How is your work in conversation with the other artists in this group exhibition?
Hopgood: Arthur Lewis, the curator and Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts brought all the artists together for Fragile World. It concerns our work during the pandemic and lockdown in response to isolation. In a way, art is therapy. The first piece I made during that time was inspired by wandering past all the shops and restaurants in West Hollywood. At the time, it was like a ghost town. I would see all these chairs and tables stacked up in the window, and it was depressing; I was deficient. And then I was like, “OK, I can either go down this rabbit hole or make work my therapy.” In London, I remember that they had this technique called “chair therapy,” where you would talk to a chair as if it was someone you had an issue with.
LAMag: Can you expand on the ideas behind your proposed work, the Lost Hollywood, which features the names of local businesses in neon?
Hopgood: Lost Hollywood is basically about remembering all the places shuttered because of the pandemic, like the Gold Coast and Rage. I was visualizing all the pubs that had been around for 20 or more years and could not survive. So I made an artwork that functions as a memory of all those places and people. Another club, Flaming Saddles, and a place in North Hollywood called Oil Can Harry’s, where I would go line dancing, also closed down. These places are community institutions, and they’re not going to come back.
LAMag: Furniture and neon carry an ephemeral quality and relate to the architecture of many cityscapes, especially Los Angeles. What is your hope for the viewer to feel with this work?
Hopgood: As a child, stacked chairs and tables in my school canteen were a safe space to hide behind when I was bullied and had to run away from dangerous situations. I found sanctuary there, and this memory relates to the tables and chairs stacked up in places closed that provided a haven for the queer community. These sites are part of the rich tapestry of life for everybody to enjoy.
I think it’s important to preserve history and the experiences of those who inhabited these spaces for new generations. In London, I love that they have plaques on historical buildings that say “this used to be here” or “this person was born here.” We should remember safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
Fragile World, featuring new work by Carl Hopgood, Samyar Maleki, Ryan Winnen, Jack Winthrop, and Greg Yagolnitzer
UTA Artist Space
403 Foothill Rd, Beverly Hills
Aug.19-Sept. 10, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays)