Los Angeles

Bobbi Woods, COMA (You look like you’ve seen a ghost.), 2011, enamel on poster, 41 x 27".

Bobbi Woods, COMA (You look like you’ve seen a ghost.), 2011, enamel on poster, 41 x 27".

Bobbi Woods Annie


Bobbi Woods, COMA (You look like you’ve seen a ghost.), 2011, enamel on poster, 41 x 27".

One often hears the work of Bobbi Woods referred to as “very LA,” for the majority of her work incorporates movie posters, culled from online vendors and Hollywood memorabilia shops, whose images and language the artist selectively masks with spray enamel. The slick surfaces that remain, we are told, are akin to the finish fetish of cars, surfboards, and postwar LA sculpture. In previous series of such “paintings,” as the artist calls them, Woods has strategically applied black polyhedral shapes, which she likens to the folds of a swaying curtain. In more recent work, she paints over the image in a chosen monochrome, leaving enigmatic fragments visible: an ominous tooth-baring smile, a disembodied platform shoe, or a suggestive word such as secrets, exposed, or waiting. In her “COMA” series, 2010–, the centerpiece of her new show, seven posters for the eponymous 1978 sci-fi thriller have been thickly lacquered over with black enamel save for the severe block-letter title, also black. In effect, the work is highly contingent on how we are to read these hardly pristine painted surfaces.

In obscuring most of the posters’ original visual content, Woods shifts our attention from the graphic to the physical qualities of her ephemeral material support. The variegated sheen of the applied enamel reveals inconsistencies between the poster “copies” caused by decades of their handling. Each greasy thumbprint, dimple, fold, and scratch is accentuated. To signal the series’ repetition-with-difference, the works are all titled COMA but each is given a unique subtitle that emulates the language of screenplays. To catalogue the surface minutiae: Tiny blisters dotting COMA (in the amorous realm) (all works 2011) open on to the image beneath; the extra-shiny veneer of COMA (repeating not repeating) enables fine-print credits to appear in ghostly relief; the peculiar sheen of COMA (INSERT CLOSE UP) is glitterlike; COMA (You look like you’ve seen a ghost.) is mottled and scratched; COMA (CUT TO INTERIOR NIGHT: Where I have looked into your eyes) is puckered as if melting; the surface of COMA (FADE IN, fade into you) is so thick and smooth, it seems laminated; and the bottom corners of COMA (deep space, Palm trees) shy away from the wall in slight curls. A more extreme example apart from the COMA series that demonstrates the materiality of print media is If it feels good (from behind), in which we are shown the backside of a poster whose recto has been partially blacked out; the enamel has seeped through as a fine tracery showing where folds have weakened the paper. In the current age of digital marketing and imaging, Woods’s work shows both how print media attains a material gravitas after its use-value has been depleted and how its material form is physically shaped by—and, in turn, encoded with—its circulation history. No matter the content of the underlying movie poster, the true drama of this work can be found in the micro-detail of its physical distress. For this reason, the paintings work best unframed, constantly vulnerable to history’s manipulations.

We shouldn’t need the exhibitions and research of Pacific Standard Time to prove that “very LA” is a pat, flat-footed designation that does a disservice to artist and city by treating both as if they exist in a historical and cultural vacuum. If we are to say that Woods’s work is “very LA,” it should rather be for the way in which it provides a view onto the city’s paradoxical existence as a center for two extremes of contemporary American culture: blockbuster films and critically engaged visual art. Woods’s defense of the latter consists in slowing and complicating our consumption of the former by selectively obfuscating commercial visuals specifically designed for a fast and easy read. The COMA paintings might have been yet another example of contemporary art esoterica (work overcomplicated by a surfeit of obscure source references) if not for the fact that we know that the movie poster is right there, underneath. Woods’s transformations of her materials turn slick images into storied surfaces, visual abundance into calculated withdrawal, ultimately building an argument for the value of the slow and careful zoom.

Natilee Harren