Most artists would agree that capturing the scope of Los Angeles takes more than just a broad brush. It also takes a little imagination.
So when Venice painter James Doolin received a commission to create four historical paintings of Los Angeles for the lobby of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new building Downtown, his imagination soared, and so did he.
After taking pictures, scrutinizing old lithographs and studying hundreds of historical photographs, Doolin found his special vantage point 200 feet in the air above the Los Angeles River. His muse visited him as the sun was setting on a cloudless evening.
From his helicopter, Doolin watched the lights of the city's vast electronic switchboard slowly begin to glimmer.
The result is a 20-by-10-foot look at our desert megalopolis, a westward-looking, 110-degree panorama stretching from Dodger Stadium to the hilltop homes of Palos Verdes. "When you come into Los Angeles on a plane, you have little time to look at it," Doolin said. "Up in a helicopter, you can really see it. I really wanted to show the freeways as a huge nervous system, representative of the true beginning of the electronic age. The best way to understand Los Angeles is to read it by the lights."
Doolin's fascination with Los Angeles began 27 years ago, when he came west from Philadelphia to study for a master's degree in painting at UCLA.
In 1980, Doolin received a three-year Guggenheim fellowship to paint desert landscapes near China Lake. His most important desert painting now hangs on a wall at the Loyola Law School library. Recently he completed some preliminary ceramic tile murals for the North Hollywood MTA Red Line station, where construction should be finished by the year 2000.
With the help of two other assistants working in his Venice studio, Doolin plans to finish three other large paintings for the MTA's new headquarters by September. One will capture Los Angeles circa 1870, with a train from San Pedro arriving at the corner of Third and Alameda streets. Another will depict the growth of the city at the turn of the century. And a third, portraying the Los Angeles of 1950, takes note of the city's smoggy skies.
"My latest painting captures the sense of upside and downside, the sinister and heroic aspects of this city," Doolin said.