R.I.P. John Outterbridge (1933-2020); and SOUTH OF PICO

Monday, January 4, 2020

The announcement of John Outterbridge’s recent death has generated a significant number of obituaries and tributes to his work on both the east coast as well as the West Coast. I would like to take this sad occasion as a chance to mention a book that deserves your attention, if you are at all interested in the production of visual art in Los Angeles. Kellie Jones’s South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, was published by Duke University Press in 2017, and was named a Best Art Book of 2017 by the New York Times and Artforum. Even if you are familiar with Outterbridge’s work, I would highly recommend this book to you. I wish I could quote more extensively from the book, but my copy is at my office at school, and given the pandemic surge in Los Angeles right now, I am doing my best to impose a strict confinement on my daily life.

For those unfamiliar with the street layout of Los Angeles, the title will have little meaning, but those who live here will understand how the titular cartography is meant to demarcate the distribution of cultural capital in alignment with economic resources. Los Angeles is famous for the way it spreads out, but Jones’s book allows us to see the specifically local impetus in Outterbridge’s poetics.

“[Noah Purifoy and John Outterbridge] want to bring art to people, to black people, because they think it will change their lives. It’s going to be part of the change we need in this world.” — Kellie Jones

Culture Talk: Kellie Jones Discusses ‘South of Pico,’ Her Recently Published Book About African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s

John Outterbridge, Sculptor Who Broke Down Barriers Between Life and Art, Has Died at 87



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As a post-script, I would note that a poem (” “American Sonnet 18”) by Wanda Coleman was reprinted in yesterday’s New York Times magazine. I was pleased to see that Godine’s publication of WICKED ENCHANTMENT is still enabling Coleman’s poetry to get more posthumous attention. It’s hard to believe that Wanda has been gone for seven years. Somehow her absent presence seems even more vivid to me now than at any point since 2013.

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