Every once in a while people ask me who my favorite artists are. It’s a hard question because there are SO many. I often try to name living artists so people can look them up and maybe support them.
A few years ago I got to meet the great Lou Beach who, for my money, is one of our greatest living collagists. Lou has been around for years. He still has a beatnik kind of swag and a soul-patch. He is one of those cool Echo Park guys that came of age in the 1950s. His given name was Lubisch. I know this because his daughter, Alpha, is a friend of mine and also a world-class collagist.
I don’t know Lou well. He is part of the gang I hang with out in Los Angeles. When I am in town, a gathering of art hoodlums is assembled–the great Hudson Marquez (sculptor and gearhead and rock and roll veteran), Billy Shire, (proprietor of La Luz de Jesus, the birthplace of “Low-Brow” art and where a whole passel of us got our start in LA) Ian McShane, (the fine Scottish actor known for playing Al Swearengen; the guy who calls everyone, “cocksucker” on HBO’s Deadwood) and, when he is in town, Dave Alvin (my favorite member of the combative Blasters–the great Rockabilly, R&B, Soul-driven outfit that sound as great today as they did in 1980). It is heady company to be in, to be sure, and I’m flattered that when I’m in LA, there is a place at the table for me.
The first time I ever saw Lou’s name was on a Neville Brothers album cover. Lou did the Art for Fiyo on the Bayou and I had been hired to do the next one, Yellow Moon. I was nervous. Lou’s piece of burning crocodiles slithering out of the Louisiana swamp was one of the coolest album covers I’d ever seen.
I thought, “Fuck. I have to follow this guy.” Why they didn’t just rehire Lou was unfathomable to me. After that, I started seeing his credit a lot in The New York Times and he was always letter-perfect–witty, economical, never too much or too little. Over the decades my respect and admiration for him grew. He knew something about melding images, words and other elements that went beyond the mere cobbling together of things. Lou’s collage work followed a poetic logic–until it was time to follow poetic illogic–often in the same picture.
Lot’s of artists are clever. Lou Beach is smart. What is craft in a lesser artist’s work, is art in Lou’s flawless execution.
This has never gotten him rich, but believe me; anyone who makes collages knows the name, Lou Beach, and we all steal from him. Hell, this pretty little blue bull I just made? Swiped it wholesale from a Lou Beach piece–I didn’t even bother changing the NAME.
He has just published a gorgeous book called, 420. No, not that “420.” It refers to the amount of characters Facebook used to allow you to put in a status update. It is also packed with his amazing art.
Buy two–you’ll want to give one to someone special.
Down the road, Lou has agreed to have an exhibition at FireCat. If I’m lucky, perhaps I can persuade his perpetually shy daughter to also show here as well.
And for those of you who want to know what a great collagist is, google “Lou Beach.” Buy one. In fact, if you’re smart, buy as many as he will sell you. This is a guy I am constantly in art-debt to. There is a reason for that. He is the best.