Alex Israel (B.1982)

Sky Backdrop

Sky Backdrop
signed, stamped and dated 'MADE AT WARNER BROS. STUDIOS BURBANK, CA. Alex Israel '13' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
274.5 x 487.5 cm. (108 1/8 x 191 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2013
Private Collection

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Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

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Lot Essay

“I’m from Los Angeles, so I grew up in Hollywood, but was never a part of it ... Because I’ve always been an outsider, I’ve always been interested in the magic of the movies-in the connection between how they manipulate us and how art can manipulate us.” - Alex Israel

Shot through with references to Hollywood and celebrity culture, Alex Israel’s work is deeply connected to Los Angeles where he grew up. In his series of large-scale, unframed paintings entitled Sky Backdrop, Israel translates the movie industry’s hazy blend of reality and fantasy into art. Executed in 2013, the present work glows with a sumptuous blend of pink and blue hues, reminiscent of a candy-coloured Californian sunset. Its unassumingly quiet, mirage-like surface is augmented to a scale that leaves viewers temporarily entranced under a seemingly limitless sky. Blushing with tropical luminosity, it is stripped of any obvious figuration apart from soft hints of diaphanous cloud. Although specifically local in genesis, Israel’s immaculate backdrops are more than a homage to Sunset Boulevard, which itself has come to epitomize the city’s endless sun-soaked freeways lined with swaying palm trees.

The origins of Israel’s dreamy skies can be traced back to his earlier Flats series, which refers to the history of hand-painted backgrounds in theatre or film sets. For these works, Israel photographed L.A. sunsets and reached out to the Scenic Arts Department at Warner Brothers to help recreate his pictures on canvas. As seen in the present example, the result is a vast image scaled to the size of standard movie screen. Using a film production company as his studio, Israel internalizes the mechanisms and materials of Hollywood, capturing something of its magic. When asked about his practice, Israel explains, “I’m a movie lover, and the illusion of cinema is all part of the fun. However, I’m also a lover of Hollywood the place, the landscape, its culture. I like the physicality of my city, its surfaces, textures and patina … I like the idea of presenting scenic painting in the flesh, directly to the viewer, inverting its position from cinematic illusion to physical, Hollywood thing” (A. Israel, quoted in interview in Ocula Magazine, 2015,

Israel’s Sky Backdrop series is one of the most iconic strands within his complex and diverse practice. His paintings, sculptures, installations and videos not only posit the city of L.A. as central to American culture, but also playfully probe its constructed façade. Besides his artistic practice, Israel also hosts the TV show As It LAys where he interviews local celebrities, adopting an unresponsive, deadpan persona. He also produces his own line of sunglasses under the moniker “Freeway”. With their multi-faceted commentary on contemporary culture, his works are held in the permanent collections of institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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