THE FILE: Interview with LA CREEPS

LA CREEPS is both action and name for the collaborative work of artists Liz Walsh and Kim Weller. Beginning in 2016 as a roving, guerilla-style multimedia project ‘popping’ up at cemeteries and parking garages throughout Los Angeles, CREEPS, dazzlingly pliable, has since expanded into a formal exhibition project merging the aesthetics, materiality (and improvisational hijinks) of punk, pop and the bizarre. 

LA CREEPS have recently exhibited around Los Angeles at Last Projects, M.A.R.S., and POST, as well as graveyard turf, and probably your neighborhood too. They have yet to be caught in the act.

Lured by CREEPS’ highly addictive neon-bathed social media persona, Settlers + Nomads contributor Daniel Samaniego drops in on CREEPS to inquire about the doings of this dextrous and distinct duo.

What lead you both to work collaboratively? I think an ongoing collaboration between two artists such as yours is uncommon, and that the resulting work conveys an element of surprise….

Liz Walsh (LW): Kim and I knew each other back in San Francisco at CCAC and then reconnected here in LA. We both loved what each other was doing artistically and wanted to see what our work would do together. It was rough idea at first, but as we kept discussing the idea of setting up work in different locations around LA it became more potent. I think we both saw it as a way of making our work happen on our own terms, separate from any institution.

Kim Weller (KW): Liz and I met each other when we were living in San Francisco. When I moved to LA 3 years ago, we reconnected and started going to art openings and galleries. We liked each other’s work and thought there was potential for collaboration. We wanted to open up new possibilities and ways of showing our work. We did our first creep shoot and it was like an epiphany—we both thought that we had something cool happening and the project just took off from there.  Oh, and another cool thing about CREEPS is that we never discuss what the other person is making beforehand.  When we arrive at the site, we pull everything out of the car and look at each other’s work and then we install. It’s really exhilarating and one of my favorite parts of this project. That’s the surprise for me every time.

 Broadway Mall, DTLA with Bessie Kunath

Broadway Mall, DTLA with Bessie Kunath

The spaces especially the parking garages, offer an unsuspecting audience. What is the criteria for LA Creeps’ site specific installations? 

(LW): Sometimes we like to find places that would offer an unusual backdrop for our work. We have also revisited spaces that held personal meaning. We did a CREEP in the abandoned house where I used to live up on the hill in Echo Park, it was going to be torn down shortly so we wanted to document, but also interact with the house. Usually we take our work with us but ended up leaving some pieces there.

(KW): Well, it depends on what type of backdrop we’re looking for— open space, closed space, industrial or more natural surroundings.  We’re also thinking about logistics too, like cops and security officers, weather, safety factors, parking, etc. Personally, I prefer the industrial sites like the parking garage and the tunnel under Grand Street DTLA. The creepier the better but sometimes it does get a little scary. There is one particular location that was a bit dangerous but I’ll save that story for later!

 LA CREEPS Dockweiler Beach

LA CREEPS Dockweiler Beach

Humor is abundant and core to your output. Is the work related more closely to a joke, satire or a prank? Is the distinction important?

(LW): We definitely love to laugh, and sometimes the joke is a means to get to more difficult ideas, when we set up our sculptures out in the world I think we know they are some sort of a play on social norms. Kim uses a lot of materials which evoke a humorous and morbid effect when placed into a public space, wigs and fur both get a lot of double takes when we are working outside.

(KW): Yeah, humor plays a big role in our work and we definitely have fun when we’re hanging out doing our Creep thing but we’re making some serious, although subtle, political jabs. As part of our shoot on Lower Grand DTLA, Liz wore an inside-out bald eagle mask and moved throughout our sculpture as we documented the work. The  visual of the messed up eagle mask was so grotesque but it was really effective. I felt that it was definitely giving the finger to our current administration although sometimes I wonder who we’re really playing a joke on or maybe that is the joke—–the joke’s on us!

How did you two decide on the name LA Creeps? 

(LW): We both wanted something a little intimidating but also fun, we played around a lot with different words and combos till LA CREEPS stuck. We wanted it to be some kind of identity that could represent us both. Something snappy, that strikes.

(KW): I loved this part of the project although it took a few weeks to figure everything out and we couldn’t start the project without the name.  We wanted a name that was punky and fun but something with an edge. We needed a name that described our idea of a nomadic-themed project with a guerrilla girl kick. We starting off by making several lists of one to two word names and we just kept passing them back and forth until we came up with LA CREEPS. I was so exciting-it was the beginning!

 LA CREEPS Instagram Filler Artforum: We Came, We Saw, We Kicked Ass

LA CREEPS Instagram Filler Artforum: We Came, We Saw, We Kicked Ass

I also enjoy seeing ‘LA Creeps’ as a textual element within the work – like a tag. Can you expand on the use of ‘LA Creeps’ as well as found text appearing throughout the work more generally?

(LW): I do think Kim and I think of CREEPS as a sort of art gang, or family. We are proud of our identity as female artists, but we also are being a little tongue and cheek about groups in general, but seriously don’t mess with CREEPS.

(KW): We definitely have a faux-tough, gang-like mentality and occasionally we’ll post “Creep Fliers” on our Instagram page in-between our site installations just to keep folks up-to-date on our project. That’s where the textual element comes in, it acts like a tag or logo and it’s in keeping with our “we can do anything” attitude. We’ll post fake notices on Instagram like “Hey, did you know that LA CREEPS will be participating in the upcoming Whitney Biennial or Hey, did you hear that LA CREEP’s is featured in the new issue of ArtForum?”, stuff like that. It’s so simple but it’s really fun to post these things. It’s so liberating!

 LA CREEPS Last Projects gallery:   Family of CREEPS

LA CREEPS Last Projects gallery:  Family of CREEPS

I love the use of popular images – specifically famous people, from Britney to Charles Manson to Sid and Nancy. The figures, whether appropriated, painted or drawn appear in frenzied or giddied states. How would you articulate your attitude toward the figure?

(LW): Kim is mostly responsible for these elements in our work. When I have used the figure it has been in a performative way, dressing up and wandering around some of our sites, I think maybe the use of any figures for me has been a way of reclaiming a space for our own.

(KW): I’ve always been drawn to  popular culture since I was a kid. I’m fascinated, well almost obsessed, with tabloid culture. I love the feel and smell of newsprint and the color printing is so vivid. That’s where I normally find inspiration for my subject matter. I have an embarrassingly huge collection of tabloids. I even brought them with me when I moved to LA. I also spend a lot of time searching for images of celebrities on the internet. Using the internet as a resource has really opened up my possibilities and it’s so immediate and satisfying! I like cutting up the images and reconfiguring them in unsuspecting combinations. It’s a way for me to polk fun at our culture but not in a harmful way. I like to play Frankenstein with the figure and mess it all up.

The humor within your forms conjures Mike Kelly. I’m thinking specifically about his writings on Caricature from the late 80s. What are your thoughts on Mike Kelly’s legacy or impact on art made in California?

(LW):I found Mike Kelly’s work super potent when I was figuring out who I was as an artist, maybe what California is great for in general is the informal or casual nature of what art is, an artist here can grow and develop in a fairly open environment, there is more ability to change and forge a new way for art.

(KW): I love Mike Kelley’s aesthetic and his playful use of materials. He was a punk and his work was courageous and raw. I thought of him as kind of like a pioneer. He really challenged the West Coast aesthetic. I think his work made me more courageous and experimental too. The West Coast offers lots of room for people to grow and explore whatever they’re into. I think he was pushing some boundaries.

 LA CREEPS Hollwood Forever Cemetery

LA CREEPS Hollwood Forever Cemetery

In contrast to the white (gallery) cube, there is a lot of visual pleasure in seeing the work installed on lawns. In that context, the work reminds me of lawn parties which I think of as a very American pastime. Scenes from “Desperate Living” or “Pink Flamingos” come to mind…

(LW):I think the Hollywood Forever CREEP, which had A LOT of lawn was definitely packed with all sorts of Camp themes, and we were there to collaborate with the morbidity. The lawn was sort of hard to interact with for me, mostly because of the uniformity, but all of our sites bring their challenges along with happy surprises.

(KW): Well, when referring to lawns, our Hollywood Forever CREEP comes to mind. We chose that site specifically because it’s so iconic and campy and knew we would have fun installing our work there. I half expected a John Waters type-of-character to pop out from behind a tombstone. We also had a run-in with their security which made it extra special and exciting. The security guard was very cool though-he only made us delete two of our photos.

 

 LA CREEPS MacArthur Park

LA CREEPS MacArthur Park

For me, your assemblages connect to ‘scatter’ aesthetics of the late 80’s and early 90’s to the present, and also magnify America’s obsessions of the punk, occult and sci-fi movements of the 70’s. Is nostalgia a point of focus, or are the references more improvised?

(LW):I think for me using sci-fi or occult type of imagery in particular is a way of processing a past idea of what the future would be or the fears of what we might encounter. Now these tropes for me maybe don’t hold the same power that they once did. These images are probably more subconscious than nostalgic.

(KW): I’ve always considered myself as having a somewhat punk mentality so this aesthetic has always appealed to me. I don’t think of myself as necessarily being nostalgic. When working I’m usually trying to figure out how to use these charged images in new configurations so that the original meaning is obscured. Definitely more improvised for sure.

There is a feeling in observing the work that no material is too precious and no image sacred, yet everything is handled so lovingly. What is the push/pull between glamour and grotesque in formal and conceptual terms?

(LW): When things get ugly there is a something really satisfying, but there is also a desire to keeps things a little lovable. The work can get messy in the studio but ultimately I like it when the piece leaves the studio for it to feel solid, but imperfect.

(KW): For me, it’s a delicate balance between the two. I use different combinations of materials that are both repulsive, but also contain a sparkly, semi-precious aesthetic. I want the work to seem immediate, like the pieces just fell into place. I want to push my images and material just to the point before they drop off the edge and pull them back. It’s a precarious place though.

 LA CREEPS Lower Grand DTLA with guest artist Alex Sanchez

LA CREEPS Lower Grand DTLA with guest artist Alex Sanchez

LA Creeps has recently exhibited at various galleries in Downtown LA. What impact did the gallery context have on the work?

(LW): The gallery shows have been fun. We had the opportunity to play around with a more permanent space–walls to hang, lighting, etc. We also were able to have friends come and be a part of the show through music, and performance. The concept for FAMILY OF CREEPS was to bring people together.

(KW): Having a gallery space available allowed us more time to play with our work.  Normally, we only have a small window of time to set-up our work, document, tear down and that can be rather hectic at times. We almost always work without an audience too so having an opening and hanging out with folks was cool. It was fun talking about our Creeps project too since we usually don’t give any explanations of what we’re doing, we only show the images taken at the location. I like the anonymity though –that’s the fun part for me!

What is the future of LA Creeps?

(LW): We are constantly thinking of new opportunities for CREEPS, we have a few projects up our sleeve, potentially a CREEP video, that would showcase different sites around LA and also feature cameos of some other local artists. We love to collaborate with other artists…..

(KW): We’re always scheming and thinking of new ways to present our project. We really like inviting guest artists to participate so we’ll continue to do that.  We’re also thinking of maybe putting together a zine or book at some point. We’ve been talking about making a video too; “Go West CREEPS, Go West!”—- like pioneers exploring the great LA landscape.

 LA CREEPS Koreatown Painting Collaboration

LA CREEPS Koreatown Painting Collaboration

All images courtesy LA CREEPS.

 

Liz Walsh lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Inspired by the plant life and city sprawl of California, Liz’s practice is focused on the mix between technology and the entropy of the natural world. She is currently working on large scale paintings of crash sites and future foliage. Liz received an MFA in Painting from CCAC, and a BFA in Painting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has attended the Headlands Center of the Arts residency as well as a residency at Cooper Union in NYC. Her work has been shown around the U.S. as well as abroad. 

Kim Weller is a visual artist currently living and working in Los Angeles. She holds an MFA in Painting and Drawing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In 2006, Kim was selected to participate in the 4-month AIR Program at Recology San Francisco and was also awarded a one-month residency at BUILD gallery. She has exhibited work at multiple venues in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Since moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2015, her work has been exhibited in several galleries including The Property, Last Projects, Post Gallery and Navel Gallery.

Follow them on Instagram here. 

Daniel Samaniego’s hyper-detailed drawing installations are a meditation on queer persona. He received his BFA in Painting and Drawing in 2007 from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and an MFA in Painting in 2011 from the San Francisco Art Institute. Samaniego has been an Artist in Residence at the Vermont Studio Center (2014). 

The file is open: studio visits, conversations and issues in new painting and drawing 

Curated by San Francisco based artist Daniel Samaniego.