LES BILLER, a Los Angeles painter, and his most recent painting: VETERANS AFFAIRS
by Rosanna Albertini
BEWARE THE IMMEDIATE IMPACT, il colpo d’occhio we say in Italian, as if pupils could shoot at the painting. “To see a painting requires time. One enters the space and stays there for a while, like reading a novel.” Les Biller’s words. He lets each of his canvasses grow and change through time, accepting the simple reality that all the physical sensations hitting his mind in the moment have the right to be in the painting: a smell, a sound of helicopters over the studio… and the flying machines will be in the mental scene he is observing and painting. Hard to drive words into a painting without crashing them against the wall of common sense. Or avoiding the search for a meaning, the truth of which is there, and not in art history, not even in Les Biller’s history as a painter. One painting, this painting.
HERE IT’S A LOS ANGELES CORNER, West Adams near the artist’s studio. A geographical note, but in the painted reality it’s transfigured. The artist peeps out from the door just slightly open, his ghost behind the scene, maybe curious to see what the other self is painting from the other side, spectator in front of the scene as we all are. A veteran, a black man sitting on the sidewalk, some garbage. Lady Justice, naked and blindfolded, gropes for something to touch. Only air. Missing the man, she heads to the pile of garbage. Miserable story nailed to the literal. Wrong way.
Meantime, the voice of my old professor of Latin at the University of Milan keeps speaking in my mind: “Do you know what Lucretius did in his De Rerum Natura? He removed the underpants from Venus.” (Venus = Nature) And I keep mumbling that here Les Biller removed the underpants from Edward Hopper’s paintings of urban corners. He gave life to the street. No more nice houses wrapping the intimacy of life in the interiors. There is no home for the black veteran.
Reality is ugly. I walk in Los Angeles, and ride the bus. A homeless man stretched out on a bus bench screams and screams, “It is not right ” — his head, the face, are hidden by a cylinder of cardboard. An inner space of some sort. There are streets invaded by people protesting against a bad use of “Justice” still, and again, against black humans. The artist has antennas, he made his portrait of these moments of urban life, in the least conventional way.
A TRIUMPH OF GENTLENESS, the painting gives back to the veteran a grace that only colors can build: his feet with no shoes, covered by strips of fabric, rest on the blue, the clear blue of the sky that, for a moment, fell on the asphalt and made it soft. The man’s windbreaker is pink, maybe a faded red, the garbage is the cleanest I ever saw: a despondent garden of Eden. Everyone can see and read many stories in this painting. As for me, I’m touched by the fluid strokes and the luminous street Les Biller has imagined, as if giving back to the veteran dreams and feelings he has probably lost. An open air home clean and pleasant. We call them soldiers, homeless people, we don’t know anything about them. We see them, that’s all. And the best thing an artist can do is what Les did, shameless and candid: he let’s us see them as human, walking on the sky. WHAT A WONDERFUL PAINTING!
LOS ANGELES IN LES BILLER’S EYES
(Click on the images to see them bigger)