In an interior room in the Beverly Hills branch of the Gagosian Gallery, there was a painting (the cast of a palm frond's shadow on a pink terrace) emblazoned with white text: "In Los Angeles, I knew so many people who were ashamed they were born and not made." It is part of the collaboration between Bret Easton Ellis and Alex Israel – no strangers to either medium – and perhaps the most striking painting of their sixteen-piece exhibit, lucidly named "Alex Israel / Bret Easton Ellis."
Stock photography of Los Angeles clichés – palm fronds, pools, beaches and the Hollywood hills – were selected by Israel and merged with copy written by Ellis to create what are technically paintings due to an application of a clear gel medium before processing. Their resonation lies within the stereotypes of Los Angeles county residents they explore: rich, apathetic, bored.
The lines written by Ellis could have been plucked from anywhere in his literary universe. Paul Schrader, the director of the Ellis-penned, critically panned 2012 film, The Canyons, summed up his characters perhaps more succinctly than anyone before him: "Beautiful people doing bad things in nice rooms." Ellis is nothing if not consistent – one of the most prevalent criticisms of his work. This extends to his work with Israel.
From the label-dropping (Tom Ford, Alaia, Club Monaco) to narcissism ("Noah thought of the possibilities of his upcoming double life – in Palm Springs, on the beach in Venice, on Instagram – feeling awesome.") to apathy (“The ghost resided in the guesthouse by the pool. At night it sometimes floated up the palm tree and drifted on its fronds, wondering if anyone cared.")
"'Make it a double,' Julio told the bartender. Everything seemed up for grabs as he stood on a cliff overlooking the valley in his Tom Ford loafers."
Every painting seems as though it's part of a larger story, yet each stand on their own, vapid insights to an unspecified world – perhaps Ellis' own. "I'm going to be a very different kind of star" could have been overhead by Ellis himself at one of his regular haunts, Spago or the Chateau Marmont. Another painting has a hazy sepia-tinged backdrop of a beach with the words, "Somewhere in the empty house Jen could hear The Eagles singing Hotel California, its deep and hidden meanings revealing themselves in waves."
In 2013, he tweeted:
"The Eagles 'Hotel California' album for better or worse is the grand apex of self-pitying Boomer rock. Every track is a sonic masterpiece."
It is this vague line between fantasy and reality that make the exhibit all the more fascinating. If American Psycho or Lunar Park taught us anything, it's that we'll never know where one begins and the other ends.
I visited the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills on the very last day of the exhibits' run. I wrote a very condensed review for London-based FAD Magazine which you can read here.
The night before I went to the Gagosian Gallery is when I arrived in Los Angeles. It was a Friday and my first trip to California. As we began our nighttime descent into LAX, I saw little luminous dots lining the city, brighter and more noticeable than the buildings.
It was traffic – headlights and tail lights in every direction.
"People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles."
They're always going somewhere but do they ever get anywhere? Bret Easton Ellis' characters never seem to – but then again, they're made that way.
By Kathryn Greene