Influenced by film, photography and American culture, Alice Tye's paintings of the American landscape seem to close the gap between reality and myth. We caught up with Alice to talk about LA, road trips, films and place.
Alice wasn't always a painter; in fact, she started studying illustration at Camberwell but says: "It was in my third year that my focus sort of moved to LA and architecture and basically everything I've worked on since."
Her dissertation focused on modernist architecture in films and how it's used to signal malevolent characters. "All the evil people live in white, boxy, glassy houses," she says.
Through her research she discovered the architecture of John Lautner, famous for the Elrod Residence, Garcia House and the Chemosphere. This is an LA of the silver screen; shady deals in the Hollywood Hills, the city lights; a city of corruption, Hollywood and crime; a city of excess and sunshine, cars and drugs, detectives and movie moguls; a city of losers and bums, Henry Chinaski's and John Fante.
Identifying with LA physically and as an idea is all about contrast for Alice: "Growing up here, the weather, it really affects the way you see things and when you go there you've got the desert. It's so exotic, it just feels so exciting because it's so far from what we have here, like a kind of paradise that exists so far away."
"But films in particular that I focused on in my original project are The Big Lebowski (1998) the James Bond films, Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) - I didn't want to be picky, or just art house films. I wanted the project to be all-embracing."
Her paintings take place within the architecture of the films. In her Lebowski painting, she paints porn-mogul Jackie Treehorn's pad. Alice even visited the site of one of her paintings, Garcia House, which featured in Lethal Weapon 2. "You can see it from the road and it towers above you. It's such a strange design." Some of the houses she has painted don't even exist in real life - the sets from Bond and North by Northwest - but they exist on film and in our mental understanding of America.
We look at one of Alice's paintings from the film LA Confidential (1997) and notice how reality can be at odds with how a film can characterise a building: "It's the house for Pierce Patchett, who is a sort of pimp in the film. And it's so funny when you look into the reality of the building because it was built as a sort of health haven which is so against the ideals that are represented in the film."
There is a loneliness and duality to the locations that Alice chose to paint but she doesn't see it as unique to LA.
"My Jacques Tati painting - from his film Playtime (1967) - which is a French film, so there's no connection to Hollywood here. And there was this amazing city that he built for the purpose of the film with working lights and lifts and so on. It was built to be really cold, which I'm attracted to as well. So I don't think it's specific to LA or California, but you can find a lot of it there too, of course."
It was the road trip that Alice had always wanted to go on. She told us how as a child she would beg her parents to take her on a trip to California. Eventually she did go out there - with her boyfriend - and this was the basis of her latest project USA IRL which has been exhibited at Magma. They visited Vegas and Palm Springs, saw Elvis' honeymoon house, saw where Frank Sinatra lived. "You can do your own little tour in Palm Springs, but in LA everything is hidden by walls and hedges," she adds.
"I was disappointed by the weather," she jokes, "because it didn't fulfil my fantasy of what LA was going to be. I was surprised by how vast a place it was, how much driving you have to do. A lot of my work now has cars and car parks and roads. I was in a car the whole time and was the only one that could drive, so I drove nearly 2000 miles. It was really hard!"
"LA just isn't like the films. One thing that drove me nuts when I got back was that I kept watching the new series of True Detective. It's set in LA and I'd watch them drive around. One minute they're in LA, the next they're in San Francisco or wine country. It seems to take them no more than an hour."
Alice remarked on how LA differs so much from the view you get in the car, from the view you get in the car on screen. It's a city of distances, vastness, parts, fragments. Nobody walks. It was bigger than she thought too, and felt like a collection of towns instead of one place. LA, the disjointed city.
Alice's USA IRL paintings often show the landscape but not the people. "It seems like nobody in LA is from LA. It's a place made up of migrants and you can see that in the really distinct cultures. It's like there's a lot of Mexican culture there and it's amazing. We went to this festival and there were loads of Mexican flags everywhere. It seemed to be ingrained in their culture whereas here in London the culture seems to be in little pockets."
"It's not the same, of course. When you don't live there, you don't have the same network of people," Alice adds.
After travelling in America and focusing her work on it, we asked if Alice felt exhausted of the country as a focal point for her work.
"I still desperately want to go back but I wouldn't be doing work on it. My curiosity is definitely not satisfied yet. There's so much more I want to do there and so many states I want to visit. I definitely think I'm ready to close the book on this work, this sort of chapter, as much as I still like to see it. I don't feel like I need to make any more paintings about it!"
Alice is now planning a trip to Japan and would like to do some work there. "I want to go and experience Japan without any preconceived ideas because with America there was so much expectation everywhere we went that it definitely coloured the way we looked at stuff, whereas I know nothing about Japan."
You can catch Alice's USA IRL exhibition at Magma and can purchase prints and paintings too by clicking on this link here.
You can view more of Alice's work on her website and can follow her on Twitter @Alice_Tye1
Recommended LA reading + viewing
- The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West
- Killer of Sheep, dir. Charles Burnett.
- The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante / Post Office by Charles Bukowski
- Heat, dir. Michael Mann
- The Big Sleep / The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
- Chinatown, dir. Roman Polanski
- The Postman always rings twice by James M. Cain
- Short Cuts, dir. Robert Altman
- Mulholland Drive, dir. David Lynch
- Excavation by Wendy Ortiz
- A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
- The Killing by Stanley Kubrick
- Play it as it lays by Joan Didion