Editorial: Art Prodigies - Unmolested Publication: Angeleno - June 2009 Back to Editorials

 LA Art prodigies –  

Art history is strewn with iconic stories of prodigal success, from 16thC Dutch painter Jan Lievens who at age 12 shared a studio with Rembrandt to Pablo Picasso, who began at 13 in the late 1800s. Latter day cases include Singaporean digital artist Kok Kee, an ex-Mensa international who started at 11, and New York based 9 year old Marla Olmstead, an abstract painter currently selling out shows.  A little older at 18, Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) is  another artist qualifying for prodigy status. Defying his years, Henry has burgeoning art career, focusing on abstract work (painting, sculpture and installation.)

Ironically several artists of 1960’s prominence dominate Henry’s influences. He recounts abstract expressionists Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell and iconic German sculptor Joseph Beuys, each who roused acclaim as Easy Rider graced movie screens internationally.
Easily targeted as a whimsical child of privilege, Henry’s intellectual vision negates such criticism, as does his work - dark, immediate and surreal. His answers peppered with wry pauses, just like dad Dennis, Henry reflects, “Its all about the work. If it becomes all about the scene then you’re just a talking head and you date yourself. I’m not into attaining fame I’m into exploring all forms of expression from acting and music to painting and sculpture.”

Selling to his father, an assortment of family friends and gallery walk ins Henry’s first solo show at Bergamot Station art complex late last year sold out.  Now enriched from the experience, he says he’s making a transition from painting to sculpture. “I’m not into co modification and salability. I don’t want to be somebody’s workhorse. For me painting has served as blueprints underscoring my sculptural self.”

Hopper’s paintings are colorful and spontaneous, visualize the bastard lovechild of Pollack and Motherwell. His new series of spherical sculptures mark another direction. Made from assembled objects, they explore “magical properties, from the occult and Alistair Crowley through to Mayan mysticism.”

Life continues to imitate art for Henry. Earlier this year he wrapped a short film called Mitte about the Berlin art scene in which he played the lead. Now infatuated with Berlin, he says he hopes to spend “much of his life,” there.

Henry will spend summer in Berlin completing his next sculptural series. Though tight lipped about representation he says he is now working with a Berlin gallery on a new show.

With aspirations to be a “classical painter,” like his idols Caravaggio, William Bouguereau, and Kramskoy, twenty year old Aradonna Sukiassyan is the very antithesis of Henry Hopper.  Raised by his single grandmother in the LA suburb of Glendalle he was later adopted by his art teacher while still attending  the local high school.

That’s same year (2006) at just 17, he went on to win the Emerging Young Artists Award and subsequently a scholarship to the Florence Art Academy in Italy where he is in his final year painting portraits and murals of classic biblical scenes.

“I have no other choice than being an artist. Once I picked up the paintbrush and saw what I could do, I couldn’t stop.  I wake in the morning forgetting to put clean clothes on or maybe eat, because I’ve got to paint.  I’m doing what I was meant to do.” With an eye to more study Aradonna now has a private dealer in Los Angeles and another in Europe, with a growing stable of corporate clients.

A stylistic leap again from the two aforementioned artists, Stephanie Mercado is causing a stir in LA’s lowbrow scene. Born and bred in Boyle Heights to a Latino family, she has already shown at South Pasadena Art center and Santa Fe Art Colony. She started her career at 16 and, now 20 has since completed her BFA at Calstate Longbeach. Site http://www.artslant.com/global/artists/show/29706-stephanie-xristine-mercado

“Having been raised in a traditional Mexican Catholic family I have an affinity for historical religious paintings. I also like Caravaggio, Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt. Quentin Massys and Pieter Bruegel, “ Stephanie says. “LA is unique because there are a lot of small galleries in Los Angeles willing to show artists of all ages and levels. That’s due to diversity within the gallery system and within the artist network,” she adds. Youthful success is precarious territory when it comes to art - often critiqued as mere contrived display rather than genuinely miraculous. Its an anathema to academics and gallerists alike, both undermining its validity for lack of depth and consistency.  

Pierre Picot a Professor of painting at both Art Center and USC is ambivalent about the concept of art prodigies and what he calls “magnifying the cult of youth.”

“Some galleries are picking kids straight out of high school preying on their salability.  Its a fact that these people are still basically children, even though they have excellent technical skills, their ideas can be a little underdeveloped what vision of the past or future do they have.” “What makes a good painter is someone who has the ability to understand and express images and ideas that reflect living life to the fullest. Great ideas come from great minds that have a relationship with the world.”  Peree believes the ideal path for an artist is a general arts degree followed by specialized grad school course dependant on their chosen mode of expression.

Former art teacher William Turner, now owner of namesake gallery at Bergamot Station is philosophical about the illusion of young success, “Before an artist is recognized and collected there are still enormous pressures. They amount to the same dichotomies. How do I follow my vision and develop my talent as an artist and still make sure to pay the rent?”

“While most young artists, of whatever stripe, long for that fast lane to fame and success, these can be just as great a test of will and character as weathering rejection and failure. Success can tempt one to stop taking the risks that got you there, while failure can tempt one to forgo the risks that will get you there.”

Written by Craig Stephens

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