Ethan Pines' Urban Archaeology makes Angelenos want to step it up

house? what house?
Have you ever passed a public school and marveled at how depressing the architecture was? You wonder why sadists would create something so dreary, as if receiving an education were a punishment rather than an honor. The same thing happens in Los Angeles. You see the shimmering palms and snow-capped mountains, but instead of being inspired by the landscape, architects plop down concrete strip malls with glaring yellow and red signs. Often, I wish Los Angeles would do better. I wish this because I love this city, and so does Ethan Pines.

Opening night at NEW THEME gallery
In his series Night Trees, where he juxtaposes striking trees against man-made structures, the buildings seem dwarfed, almost ridiculed. In a world where we keep our eyes on traffic, Pines reminds us of what we’re not seeing. The towering, live-giving trees seem ancient and knowing. In everyday life, they are content to sit in the background as we zoom past, fiddling with our iPods. But caught in twilight and lit strangely, they are breathtaking. These photos remind me of how I feel when passing an industrial school campus. It makes me wish Los Angeles would step up their achitecture, to match the natural beauty we overlook.

Ethan Pines’ love for this city is evident in Urban Archaeology, his first solo show in Los Angeles. His work at NEW THEME gallery on Melrose is unmissable. In addition to pieces from Night Trees is Night Cars. Los Angeles is a car culture and he photographs vintage driving machines. Instead of focusing on the sleek lines of the models, he trains our eyes on the dents and rusted-out parts. He loves Los Angeles not by glossing it over, but by showing all the juxtapositions. Beautiful cars and decay, majestic trees and chain link fences, and the spooky underside of yellow-lit freeway ramps at night.

But it doesn’t all have the hushed feel of an urban secret garden. There is gloss. To avoid this in L.A. would be making a statement. An annoying statement of defiance, much seen by people who take pride in avoiding Facebook. To quote The Beverly Hillbillies, this is the land of “…swimmin’ pooooools and movie staaaahhhs!”  Pines embraces this. While this exhibit focuses less on his glitzy commercial work, his website demonstrates just how versatile he is as an artist. High-glam abounds, in saturated colors and high-spectrum pop. He photographs personalities with their dogs, Mid-Century Modern homes and celebrities laughing in a confetti downpour. In these photos, the sky is impossibly blue and skin glows more radiant than a sunset over the Pacific.

His work ranges from classic California punch to an eerie gorgeousness. It will encourage you to pay more attention. You may have looked at certain buildings and trees hundreds of times, but now, you might actually see them. Don't miss this show.