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A brutal kind of beautiful

Loving difficult art and living with it are two different things. Or are they? For one Silver Lake couple, paintings that disturb and provoke are inspiration for a house of contrasts.

February 01, 2007|Paul Young | Special to The Times

IT rises high above Sunset Boulevard, a 45-foot-tall modern manse, brightly hued in orange and green, as cheery as any of the Craftsmans or Mission Revivals sharing the street. But cross over a gurgling pond, pass the Buddha statue, then open the glass front door, and the scenery begins to shift. A life-sized painting of a dead soldier hangs on the wall, his flesh burnt and limbs torn. Steps away, a photograph shows the World Trade Center on fire, and beyond that hangs an American flag, each star rendered with the white-shrouded head of an Abu Ghraib prisoner.

The contrast is startling, and deliberate. Owners Tim Campbell and Steve Machado have amassed a 40-plus-piece collection of artworks speaking to terrorism, racism and other -isms of our time, and yet their home still manages to be warm, welcoming and unapologetically beautiful.

"I don't find it difficult to live with difficult art," Campbell says matter-of-factly, without any hint of conceit. "I would find it difficult to live with beautiful, pointless art."

Prompted by the war abroad or social ills closer to home, more people are sharing Campbell's sentiment, choosing to wear their hearts on their sleeves and their politics on their walls. In the last two years, galleries have seen a growing demand for politically conscious artworks, says Peter Selz, professor emeritus of art history at UC Berkeley. "We saw a similar rise in this kind of work during the Vietnam War," Selz says. "But now there's an enormous interest in this, and much of it is coming from California."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Brutalism: In Thursday's Home section, an article on an art-filled Silver Lake home said the term Brutalism is derived from the French phrase for "raw concrete," or \o7breton brut. The correct spelling is \o7beton brut.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 08, 2007 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Brutalism: A Feb. 1 article on an art-filled Silver Lake home said the term Brutalism was derived from the French phrase for "raw concrete," or \o7breton brut. The correct spelling is \o7beton brut.

The challenge, of course, comes not only in piecing together a collection that reflects one's passion, but in living with it -- somehow maintaining a home that still feels like a home.

Campbell, 42, a self-taught building designer, has been interested in political and social art since the late 1990s. After he secured a vacant Silver Lake lot for $47,500 in 2000, he set forth to design a house specifically to showcase his growing collection. The result, completed in 2003, is a study in juxtapositions.

UPON entering from the street, a hefty metal stairway guides visitors up through the four-story, 2,000-square-foot home. The main floor consists of a spacious living room and dining area connecting to a small kitchen and a deck out back. A terrace delivers treetop views of the Silver Lake hills, and an ultrasuede couch provides a comfortable perch from which Campbell and Machado can lavish attention on their dogs, the Rhodesian Ridgeback-pitbull mix Jack and the plump pug Chausette. Wall-mounted TVs are conspicuously absent, substituted with paintings and photographs. And here's where the space turns toward the provocative.

Travis Somerville's "Sunday After Church" -- a collection of advertisements revealing the racism inherent in media depictions of African Americans, punctuated with black letters spelling "Sambo's" -- looms over the dining area. It's a pointed piece, yet it's Attila Richard Lukacs' ironically titled "Love" that commands even more attention.

Rendered in bright red hues, the oil painting depicts a fierce group of neo-Nazis, some appearing to taunt unseen passersby. The image, which dominates the living room, explores the ritualistic practices of heterosexual men in ways that reveal homosexual undercurrents. "He's done the same with American military manuals, which are just amazing," Campbell says of the artist.

In the top-floor master suite, a low-slung bed provides a kind of proscenium for Richard Ross' photograph of a Los Angeles Police Department holding cell, complete with a ratty wood bench, chains and handcuffs. The image, Campbell says, is part of a series called "Architecture of Authority," in which the artist scrutinizes confessionals, interrogation rooms and other spaces he says are designed to intimidate.

Much of the north wall, by contrast, is taken up by Forrest Williams' figurative oil painting "Buttress," showing two men squaring off on opposite sides of a table. The piece isn't as politically overt as some of the other works in Campbell's collection, "but it's emotionally complex," he says. The tone, body language and intensity of the figures' gaze suggests something sad and confrontational, and yet somehow empathetic.

"That's my favorite piece," says Machado, a chiropractor, who later confesses that he hasn't always felt comfortable with some pieces in his partner's collection. "Others can be really hard to look at sometimes. I like the way they work together, as an entire collection."

Veteran art consultant Barbara Guggenheim cites a school of American social realism that's very political and "very well collected here in L.A.," she says, "particularly amongst filmmakers who believe in being socially responsible storytellers." Yet it is less common, she says, for these contemporary collectors to fill their homes with these works.

Though some find such work too overt or didactic, Campbell wouldn't have it any other way.

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