Peter Lodato



Robin Trento – Gallery Teacher Getty Center Department of Education Los Angeles, California



About 10 years ago scholars at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles began to collect archival material and oral histories from a number of artists who had been active in the local art scene within the past half century.  Initially an effort to document the milestones of contemporary art in this region, it was soon acknowledged that important artistic trends unique to this area had developed, and an initiative began to bring awareness of these movements to a wider audience.  With the help of Getty Foundation grants, a number of local art institutions answered the Getty’s call to help plan and launch Pacific Standard Time:  Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980, a city-wide celebration of Los Angeles-based art from the early post-war years.  Over sixty cultural institutions are now engaged in this endeavor, with focus exhibitions currently on view from Santa Barbara to San Diego to Palm Springs and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.  Lasting from October 2011 through spring of 2012, this is arguably one of the largest visual arts initiatives ever undertaken.

The story of the art celebrated in Pacific Standard Time is as much about this time and place in history as it is about the people who created it.  The two decades following World War II proved to be an exciting time to be living in Los Angeles.  The natural optimism of the American spirit had brought the country through the Great Depression and on to victory in the allied war effort, and nowhere was this optimism more evident than in Southern California.  Job opportunities abounded in the local entertainment and technology industries; and the balmy climate and wide open spaces, stretching from coastline to mountains to desert, promised a lifestyle to newcomers that was informal, active and affordable.  Young, forward-thinking architects answered the call to design homes that would reflect this modern, comfortable lifestyle, and developers followed their lead in mass-producing this dream into tract homes to accommodate the needs of the growing population.

Artists flocked to Southern California as well.  A number of top rate design schools and universities drew students and teachers alike who dreamed of participating in the shaping of a new, modern lifestyle.  Many of these artists were free-spirited, willing and eager to express themselves in a “frontier” environment unburdened by the status quo of an established art scene.  They naturally responded to their new surroundings, and first individually, then collectively, created a style that was unique to this time and place.

Case in point is a group of painters who were working independent of one another, but whose output showed some remarkable similarities in style and technique.  Encouraged in the mid 1950’s by a local art history professor to come together and create a group identity, four of these painters (John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and Karl Benjamin) formed a group show under the label Abstract Classicists.  Their work is characterized by abstract, geometric forms in planes of color that are distinctly separate from each other, unlike the Abstract Expressionists so popular in other parts of the art world whose color spaces blur together.  In fact, their painting came to be known as “hard-edge” to further underscore this technical and visual differentiation.

In part these artists were responding to the new aesthetic being proffered by the architects designing the modern California homes, creating artworks that would reflect the clean lines and openness of these dwellings; in part they were responding, as were the same architects, to the vast expanses of sky, desert and ocean that surrounded them, and to the special quality of light found in this area.

Chief among these painters was John McLaughlin, the senior statesman of the group, who had been greatly influenced by Asian culture and was himself a practitioner of Zen Buddhism.  From his studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean he created clean-lined paintings of simple geometric forms that emphasized the blank spaces in between.  The Zen-like quality of these pictorial meditations, with his use of this “marvelous void” allowing the viewer to complete the picture with inner musings, was to be highly influential on the burgeoning art scene around him.

Other artists began to reflect their fascination with light and space in ways that blurred distinctions between painting, sculpture and perceptual art.  Their artistic expressions, often the result of experimentation with alternative materials and techniques, eventually gave way to the California Light and Space movement, noted as such in the 1960’s.

It is into this creative environment that Los Angeles born artist Peter Lodato emerged, and he rightfully takes his place today as one of the notable proponents of the celebrated California style.