inside the Israeli artist’s West Hollywood studio, anything is possible.
Picture This: You are looking at a photograph of two dolphins, their shiny snouts and slippery smiles protruding from the surface of the water. The visual is unremarkable, except for the fact that three colorful sections of surgical tubing protrude through the image and the glass of the frame. What’s the deal? Is this a hacked artwork—an intentionally damaged piece? A surrealist SeaWorld snapshot? Or is it a wall sculpture; an elegant arrangement of color, texture and value that happens to reference Flipper? The man behind the phenomenon is 37-year-old Los Angeles-based Israeli artist Elad Lassry. And it is the question that comes into the viewer’s mind—the uncertainty of what one is actually perceiving—that interests him.
Lassry moved to Los Angeles directly from Tel Aviv, where he was born and raised, at the age of 20 in 1998. Asked if there was any one thing that led him down the creative path, he says, “It was actually by way of elimination—nothing else made as much sense. At some point in high school I started realizing that it was a stronger passion of mine than everything else I was studying. And I searched for inspiration or direction within art as opposed to having encountered it.”
His exploration led him to CalArts, the avant-garde art school created by Walt Disney. Lassry’s transition to the suburbs of Valencia from the hubbub of Tel Aviv was not an easy one—he took leave of the school on more than one occasion before completing his undergraduate degree—but he was able to absorb the effects of a number of local legends, including John Baldessari and Mike Kelley. He went on to receive his MFA from the University of Southern California. It was there, studying with Sharon Lockhart and Frances Stark, that he honed his approach.
To the uninitiated, Lassry’s subjects have a generic, off-the-shelf feeling: They are the loneliest sort of stock photos of animals and people, food and furniture. The emotional distance of these normally approachable characters, along with the artist’s experimental embrace of materials, aligns him with conceptual artists like Jeff Koons or Haim Steinbach, as well as modernists of the Dada and Surrealist era such as Marcel Duchamp or Meret Oppenheim. Represented in Los Angeles by David Kordansky Gallery and in New York by 303 Gallery, Lassry has shown in galleries and museums around the world, from Hong Kong to Toronto, Milan to Houston. His multimedia work Collie (Roof), Pink Chair sold at auction in the spring of 2014 for $62,500—placing him in a league with contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall, as well as icons of the Ansel Adams variety.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that a talent of his caliber does not operate in a palatial industrial warehouse workspace, the sort that typifies the classical studio tradition. A visit to his Hollywood studio brings you face to face not with a hive of assistants, but with his elderly Chihuahua, Tuna, who putters around the workshop, and two large Standard Poodles, Jessica and Carter, busily patrolling the backyard. The environs are part domestic, part laboratory, with test subjects—photographs with stainless-steel balls and leaflike enameled-metal discs embedded in them—mounted to the wall of a spare entry viewing room.
It is here that one can witness his multistage process firsthand: In some multimedia works, Lassry begins by making traditional gelatin silver prints from others’ photographs, or “negatives that are discarded from assignments.” He then creates a mold and pours acrylic glass halfway into it. The photograph and objects are placed onto the surface and pigments are introduced into the creation, softening and diffusing the obtuse relationship between the image and the collaged elements before it is sealed with another layer to form the acrylic block. In a way, the artist is asking us to learn how to see again: “A big interest of mine is the difference between presentation and representation. No matter how much we engage in the technology, there is a sort of mystery and horror around the picture, and something that is impossible to curb,” he says. “Perhaps it is the accuracy that is so overwhelming to the human mind—that a photograph is the only representation that is so much like what you saw. However, it is so much unlike it too. And that is a very tricky space.”
This month the artist has a solo show at Massimo De Carlo in Milan, and come September, at the David Kordansky Gallery. In the year ahead he will also appear in group shows at museums and galleries in Amsterdam, Berlin, Fort Lauderdale, London, New York and Portugal. But rather than narrow his view, Lassry’s prolific pace has only fueled his curiosity about the potential of his medium. Currently he is pushing the physical boundaries of his work further with the additions of furniture and dance performance to his practice—and, like Adams or John Ford before him, taking the pioneering spirit of revolutionizing photographic images to an entirely new frontier. “We talk about painting and we talk about photography,” he says. “But for me there is a desire to return to the experience of looking.”
By Christopher Wyrick.
Photographed by Coral von Zumwalt.