In Southern California, it feels as if summer is a sun-proof vampire, immortal, a never-ending gothic summer of drought and car chases, punctuated by shootings, stabbings and beatings, heartbreak and horror. In his blog The Westsider, author, journalist and Los Angeles native Rodrigo Ribera D’Ebre recalls:
People would hear more gun shots at night and gang members walked around their neighborhoods in the daytime wearing brown-colored gardening gloves to avoid fingerprints on their guns. The visual is so stark in my mind—bald heads, white t-shirts, shrink-to-fit Levis, white sneakers, and the ever-famous “brownies” on people’s hands.
My neighborhood had one (reported) shooting this summer. There have been nights of gunfire with no sirens ever heard, nights when cars race up our block and the neighbors call the next morning to warn me that unfamiliar vehicles are circling the block. Cops eat regularly at the red sauce joint just down the street and movie stars stroll the Sunday farmers market within walking distance of my house, within walking distance of thirteen houses of worship. A mile away, last weekend, a local guy was stabbed during a music festival.
The darkness of Los Angeles, of Southern California, cannot be chased away by sunlight. It is in our history–the missionary conquest first of the natives, then the conquest of the conquerors by “Americans.” It is in the history of the enslavement, land grants and curses on Griffith J. Griffith (who gave his name to Griffith Park) and the Doheny family, the Chicken Coop murders, the stretch of Sunset Blvd known as Deadman’s Curve, the Manson Family, the SLA shootout, the Hillside Strangler and the Nightstalker, Rodney King and OJ.
Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Joan Didion, James Ellroy captured our darkness in prose; film noir held it to the projector’s light. But in art–well, the Light and Space movement and Cool School avoided it. Low Brow and Pop Surrealism toyed with it, dancing around with cartoons and big eyed girls in antlers. It wasn’t until Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre that a specific nativist genre, Dark Progressivism, was recognized and defined.
This year, my own gothic summer officially began with Bats’ Day in Fun Park (aka Goth Day at Disneyland) and has moved through the release of Prayers‘ EP and video “Gothic Summer,” into San Diego tattoo parlors and restaurants with altars to the dead placed discreetly by the front door, culminating with “Devils’ Town,” a month-long art show in L.A.’s Chinatown, which I co-curated with d’Ebre, and artist Edwin Quiroz.
The choice of Chinatown was not an accident. Los Angeles first rose to international infamy not because of our film stars or orange groves. Known as “Los Diablos” the wickedest city west of the Mississippi, Los Angeles made worldwide news in 1871 with the lynching of 17 Chinese men by a mob of whites on the street known as Negro Alley. The Chinese Massacre remains to this day the largest urban lynching in U.S. history.
This was the jumping off point for our artists in “Devils’ Town” — the devils of our city’s past, the devils in our region’s present. And these artists brought it hard and strong and brave and bold; in black and gray, in glowing nighttime neon tones, in the reds of blood fresh and dried. “Devils’ Town” is a fundraiser for d’Ebre’s documentary, Dark Progressivism: On Rupture and Rebellion; while the artists are paid for the sales of their work, we are donating our curatorial fees to complete the film’s production. “Devils’ Town” closes this weekend with a party featuring a performance by Prayers.
I am proud of this show, proud of the artists, proud of living in this city in endless gothic summers And I am proud of myself for casting off societal expectation, stepping outside the stereotypes of where I was born, where I went to school, of how and who I am expected to be; proud to be able to move through many worlds with grace. That is my dark progress.
And gothic is the summer. Eternally
Top: Germs, Concrete Jungle.
Top: Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez. Bottom, Jose Lopes.
L to r: Jose Lopes, Pablo Cristi, Ed Gutter.
Left, Ed Gutter. Top right, Tyson Pedrosa. Bottom, Jason Hernandez.