Curated by Fred Hoffman
March 2 – April 15, 2006
Opening Reception with the Artist: Thursday, March 2, 6-8 pm

612 North Almont Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069
Contact, Shannon Richardson
Tel, 310.550.0050,  fax, 310.550.0605
Web site,
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am-5pm and by appointment

Damian Elwes, Picasso's Villa La Californie I & II, 2006, oil on canvas, 66 x 66 inches (each).

By definition, the modern artist is drawn to and influenced by the art of the recent past.  In fact, this single concern has literally propelled art forward into new terrain and unexplored possibilities.
Such is the case with the most recent work of Damian Elwes.  His new paintings are single-mindedly focused on the art and life of the 20th Century’s most important artistic figure—Pablo Picasso.  A daunting task for any contemporary artist!  For Picasso's towering artistic contribution should rightfully intimidate and thereby thwart the efforts of any painter working today.  In this regard, Elwes seems to have carved a unique niche: while he pries into the inner workings of Picasso’s studio production and his mind, he has been able to maintain his own identity and produce a body of work evidencing complete artistic integrity.

Damian Elwes’ father and grandfather were both painters.  Damian tried to avoid this fate by studying play writing at Harvard, but at graduation his professor gave him a palette knife that had once belonged to Henri Matisse.  He went to Paris and tried to visit the old studios of Matisse and Picasso, but they were now closed to the public or gone.  Over the next two years he roamed Paris and painted every artist's studio that he could find.  That is how he learned to paint.  Since then he has painted the various studios of all his favorite artists including Cezanne, Gauguin, Rodin, Matisse, Kahlo, Duchamp and Warhol.  He considers each individual studio to be a portrait of the artist's mind at a particular moment in time.  In his paintings he poses the same questions over and over again.  What inspires the artist?  Where does human creativity come from?  

In this current exhibition, Elwes deals with the most prodigious artist of our time, during one of his most intense phases of creativity.  In the mid-fifties, Picasso had just fallen in love with his last wife, Jaqueline.  His great rival Matisse had recently died, and he had no one to compete with. Luckily, Jaqueline's face reminded him of one of the women in Delacroix's masterpiece “Women of Algiers” and thus began a series of paintings in which Picasso pitted his talents against those of the old master.  Suddenly the whole ground floor of his villa was filled to the brim with portraits of Jaqueline, interspersed with representations of himself as bull, owl, goat, tortured faun, etc.  Elwes’ work describes a moment in April 1956 when Picasso had just completed several paintings of his own studio, a rare occurrence.  He then made an amazing painting of his muse in his studio.  In that painting, Jaqueline is looking at a painting of a blank canvas on an easel—it is a meditation on the making of art. In that very moment Picasso seems to be pondering the exact same thing as Elwes: what is the source of his creativity? The only difference is that Picasso is now the old master.

This exhibition is curated by Fred Hoffman who recently filled the Brooklyn Museum and then MOCA with a stunning retrospective of Jean Michel Basquiat.  About the Elwes exhibition Mr. Hoffman notes that   "this series of paintings essentially link together to describe almost the entire ground floor of the Picasso's Villa La Californie in Cannes.  Architectural forms portrayed in one painting continue into the next, thereby inferring that as the eye of the viewer moves from painting to painting that you are physically moving from room to room in the master’s studio.  As such, this group of paintings functions as an installation.   Elwes envelops the viewer as a way of enhancing the experience of what it would have been like to be in Picasso’s studio in Cannes in 1956."

These paintings are literally a feast for the eye and mind.  Each of Elwes’ paintings is the result of copious research, from which he has assembled all extant documentation on any and every item that Picasso surrounded himself with.  These include all the notebooks, sketches, African masks, works in production (such as paintings, prints, ceramics and sculpture), as well as gifts from friends, articles of clothing and even artworks by his own children.  All of these “things” have been included in Elwes’ work with the goal of accurately documenting the conditions in which the master worked.

Historical accuracy drives these paintings.  Nothing has been depicted by Elwes that is not included in a 1956 photograph or literary description of Picasso’s studio.  While this historical “compulsion” has necessarily put a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of Damian Elwes, it has equally made his task more manageable.  That is, decisions as to what to paint are really not his.  They are guided by history, by what the documents reveal.  This same concern for accuracy is applied to the placement of objects within each picture. That said, as Damian Elwes is his own painter, he has taken artistic license in the creation of each of these works.

In light of the artist’s commitment to authenticity, it is interesting to note that this exhibition is being presented in Hollywood.  For here in a culture so focused on producing believable recreations of the past, Damian Elwes’ research is not that far removed from the work of the set designer and director as they prepare for a major historical drama. For both the painter and the filmmaker, historical accuracy enhances the credibility of the scene depicted.  Also since Damian's paintings are about the creative process itself, it is not surprising that his work appeals to highly creative people.
Collectors of Damian Elwes’ work include Steve Wynn, Sir Anthony Hopkins (who played Picasso on the screen), Jodie Foster, Sir Mick Jagger, Natalie Maines, Al Pacino, Donald Sutherland, Pierce Brosnan, Jim Carrey, Peter Morton, Wendy Stark, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty and many more.

Damian Elwes demonstrates unique skills in capturing space, light and atmosphere. He has combined these talents with his truly inventive approach to historical documentation. The result is a series of operatic settings filled with layer upon layer of visual information and mental stimulation.  These works lead us back into a special moment in time, and we feel privy not only to a highlight of art history, but into the inner workings of one of our greatest creative voices.

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