Return to Articles


by Judith A. Hoffberg

(The Living Room, Santa Monica) In keeping with the Made in California theme [at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art--see Margarita Nieto’s column elsewhere in this issue-Ed.], which also features filmclips about Upton Sinclair’s California political life, Sam Erenberg has created a body of work based on a book he inherited from his father, American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences by Upton Sinclair, written in 1932. Sinclair, American novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, social critic and founder of the California Progressive Party, wrote this autobiography in chapters. So Erenberg, conceptual artist that he is, uses text and image as a “reading” device, creating eight paintings with text from the book silkscreened on each work.

Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, educated in New York, but spent several years out west in Pasadena and Buckeye, Arizona beginning in 1915. He famously wrote novels, but also experimented with telepathy, followed Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, who tried to make movies in the U.S. and Mexico, and in 1934 ran unsuccessfully for governor of California as a Socialist. This colorful life is reflected in a series which Erenberg has created to reflect the many-faceted adventure of this man of letters.

These eight luminous paintings are each assigned a distinct color. Childhood has a white background, Youth a violet, Genius a silver, Marriage in all its volatility a red background, Revolt is in black, Utopia in blue, Wandering in orange, and Exile in Green. This color system reflects the exciting, stimulating, evocative life of a man who created a stir in the 20th century not only with the 90 books he wrote, but also with the intense political activity he engaged in. As works of art they continue a long conversation the artist has had with texts of other revered authors in the past. You may see an image of the man in the larger exhibition at LACMA, but the mind of the man can be better visualized in seeing this quietly beautiful exhibition.

“Youth,” acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24”, 1997.

“Exile,” acrylic on canvas, 27 x 24”, 1997.

“Wandering,” acrylic on canvas, 30 x 27”, 1997.

“Revolt,” acrylic on canvas, 27 x 24”, 1997.