‘The Work Is Not Confined to One Demographic’: See How Artist Lari Pittman Draws Inspiration From Cultures Around the Globe

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Artist Lari Pittman in his studio. Courtesy of KCRW.

There is a frenetic energy to the kaleidoscopic work of the Los Angeles-based artist and beloved teacher Lari Pittman. And once you hear him speak, it makes perfect sense that such dizzying images would spring from his mind. Although he was born in California, Pittman spent his formative childhood years in Colombia, where his mother is from, and was introduced to a vibrant culture that resonated with him and continues to inform his work today.

In an exclusive interview back in 2007 for Art21’s television series Art in the Twenty-First Century, Pittman describes living a charmed life in the country, where he was allowed “to express a fey side as a young boy… given full reign and never, ever commented on, really allowed [me to] bloom and blossom.” This stands in sharp contrast, he says, to his experience living in America as an adult, where “what keeps me radicalized is being aware of the overwhelming hatred that is exhibited by the American population and through actual legislation against homosexuals.”

Lari Pittman, <i>Untitled</i> (1989-90). Courtesy of Regen Projects.

Lari Pittman, Untitled (1989-90). Courtesy of Regen Projects.

Over the course of his decades-long career, Pittman’s work has continued to address the intersection of politics and sexuality, especially in the 1990s in response to the AIDS crisis and the US culture wars.

His highly detailed works are shaped by a variety of influences, from Victorian silhouettes to anonymous Mexican devotional paintings called retablos. Speaking to Art21, he explained that he hopes this range of inspirations will touch each viewer a little bit differently. “The work is not confined to one demographic,” he says.

Now, Pittman is being celebrated with the largest retrospective of his work to date in “Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence” at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. More than 80 works culled from private and public collections around the world will be on display when the show opens later his week, offering the fullest account yet of Pittman’s unique way of seeing the world.


Watch the video, which originally appeared in Season 4 of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” below. “Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence” is on view at the Hammer Museum from September 29, 2019–January 5, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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