Mythologies of La La Land: “As Above, So Below” by Becky Kolsrud

A pair of feet in heels, emerging from a pool, set against the backdrop of city lights at night—this alluring image belongs to the exhibition “As Above, So Below” by Los Angeles-based artist Becky Kolsrud that ran last year in February and March at the Chinatown space of Make Room LA. The gallery moved to the heart of Hollywood a couple of months ago.

The colours nude and blue are presented again and again. Bodies, waves of water, the sky, greenery, fire come together to form dreamy, elusive narratives.

The gallery states: “The scenes in these paintings build upon tales of the city—Los Angeles mythologies. And the point of origin is water or a lack thereof. For those who live here, life depends on water piped in from distant sources. The city holds to its verdant image, while violent fires burn across the landscape. These works embody that ambivalence with oneiric beauty.”

The title triptych As Above, So Below, has a circular composition with three vignettes sitting under an inferno horizon. In one panel, a depiction of a woman holds a disembodied male head; in another, a pink skull sits below a female head emerging from a lake—a memento mori of sorts. The third panel shows a bisected figure—posed like a collapsed marionette as well as the Black Dahlia murder victim, one of Los Angeles’ most iconic and surreal true crime stories. This work conflates the personal with a bricolage history of Western painting.

As Above, So Below © Becky Kolsrud

Two other paintings depict female legs emerging from water. In Inscape (Double Wave), the legs stand upright engulfed in a splashy blue wave. The subject of the painting is both inside and outside of the water. The wall of blue functions as a theatrical curtain, displaying the figure while simultaneously dismembering it. In Legs in Franklin Hills, a watery backdrop of Hollywood Boulevard at night evokes Roman Polanski’s observation that “Los Angeles is the most beautiful city in the world, as long as seen at night and from a distance.”

Three Graces as Mannequins hangs above an installation of feet in clear heeled boots. The painting has two distinct references: the Marble Statue Group of the Three Graces, from the second century AD, and store display mannequins. The nudes here appear to be a form of allegory, both representing “Charm, Grace and Beauty” as in the Greek Charites and the body as an allegory for modern retail. Below the painting sits an assortment of crudely formed ceramic feet with red toenails in clear plastic boots. These “reliquaries” of beauty are grotesque, fragmented, and autonomous, where no equal pairs exist.

In just five paintings and a sculptural installation, the artist gives us an insight into multiple facets and features of La La Land. Its seductiveness, glittering wealth, ambition and energetic spirit, but also its artificiality, sense of dependence, a certain hollowness, aggressive ability to cut down, reduce, break one to pieces.

Born in the San Fernando Valley in 1984, Becky received her BS from NYU and her MFA in painting from UCLA. Recently, her work has been included in exhibitions at Nino Mier Gallery (Los Angeles), Phil Gallery (Los Angeles), Stephen Friedman Gallery (London), Don Gallery (Shanghai), and CF Hill (Stockholm). Her work is in the Hammer Museum Collection in Los Angeles and the Hall Art Foundation in Vermont.

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Legs in Franklin Hills © Becky Kolsrud
Inscape (Double Wave) © Becky Kolsrud
Figure/Face (Double Figure) © Becky Kolsrud
Three Graces as Mannequins © Becky Kolsrud
Untitled (Feet Sculpture) © Becky Kolsrud