Ed Templeton, Amalgamated Fragments @Danziger

JTF (just the facts): A total of 33 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery upstairs and the smaller gallery downstairs (behind the reception area). The following works are on view in each area:

Upstairs gallery

  • 1 cluster of gelatin silver prints (9), undated, in an edition of 3
  • 1 cluster of gelatin silver prints (10), undated, in an edition of 3
  • 1 cluster of gelatin silver prints/c-prints (10), undated, in an edition of 3
  • 2 clusters of gelatin silver prints/c-prints (14), undated, in editions of 3
  • 5 gelatin silver prints, 1999, 2003, 2015, 2016, 2017, 16×20 (or reverse), in editions of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2012, 20×24, in an edition of 5
  • 5 gelatin silver prints with acrylic paint, 2017, 48×40 (or reverse), unique

Downstairs gallery

  • 5 gelatin silver prints, 2000, 2004, 2009, 2012, undated, roughly 6×9, in editions of 5
  • 6 gelatin silver prints, 2014, 2015, undated, 16×20 (or reverse), in editions of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2007, 24×20, in an edition of 5
  • 1 painted gelatin silver print, 2016, 16×20, in an edition of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print collage, 2000, roughly 20×19, in an edition of 5
  • 1 c-print, 1998, 11×14, in an edition of 5
  • 1 c-print, undated, 20×16, in an edition of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print with acrylic paint, 2017, 48×40 (or reverse), unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: I have to admit that over the past decade or so, I have often wondered why Ed Templeton never seemed to have a gallery show scheduled in New York. Having been exposed to the intimate brashness of Templeton’s diaristic vision primarily via a series of well-made photobooks as well as an image or two in group shows or at art fairs, I have dutifully scanned the listings, always expecting that his work would naturally make the rounds here. The fact that it has taken some twenty years for this reality to take place is perhaps a discouraging example of the myopic divide between the East and West coasts that still lingers in the art world. Templeton’s photographs bring us inside a unique subculture of life in Southern California, and for many, that’s a very foreign country indeed.

As any tightly edited introductory survey should, this exhibit provides both a historical sampler of Templeton’s photography for those who are seeing his work for the first time, while also bringing us up to speed on what he’s been doing lately. Although very few of Templeton’s images actually depict his chosen profession, skateboarding (and the life that it has made for the artist) is the consistent through line that connects all of his work. In his early pictures, he documented his close friends and those around him, capturing their youthful passions and exploits with an authentic rawness that brought us inside the lawless messiness and unexpected tenderness of their lives. As the years passed, Templeton turned pro and eventually started his own skateboard company, and in tandem, he has increasingly turned his camera toward life on the road, the anonymous hotel rooms and snatched impressions of passing cities becoming more prominent subjects. Through it all, life in his hometown of Huntington Beach, particularly on the pier and near the sand, has remained at his center, offering him a never ending parade of uniquely Californian characters and moments. What makes Templeton’s work durably intriguing is that he has carved out his own unique aesthetic, observantly exploring the risky realities of teenage/young adult life, bringing the casual openness and energy of Nan Goldin, Mike Brodie, and Larry Clark together with his own brand of eclectic SoCal street photography.

Templeton often hangs his images in tightly grouped, edge-to-edge clusters, and several of these “image clouds” feature prominently in this show. His gathering of teenage kissers (cleverly titled “Eulogy for Lost Saliva 2”) perceptively captures the immediacy of these encounters – on the grass, in the sand, on the street, and elsewhere, kids kiss with grasping, don’t-care-who’s-watching, don’t-entirely-know-what-I’m doing urgency. His portraits of teenage smokers are, on the other hand, full of aching, awkward coolness, the put-on of adulthood carried off with as much swagger as possible.

Other clusters are less rigidly typological, allowing the diversity of the Orange County streets to come forth. “Deformer” loosely brings together images of guns, flags, and religion, while “Memory Foam” stays tighter to the quirkiness of life on the pier, from pelicans and sharks to swimsuited girls running through bubbles and a shirtless man keyboarding for Jesus. “Time Margins” goes back the farthest, to days of drinking, sex, and hotel pizza, where skateboarding, train car jumping, and handfuls of cash offered a relentless stream of thrills. In each, the groupings create a larger thematic resonance, the individual images becoming supporting fragments of an overall experience.

A selection of larger single images highlight Templeton’s compositional skills. Carefully split frames enliven a mariachi band at the Women’s March and a graffiti artist at work in Barcelona, while a cut away dress and a striped sidewalk in St. Petersburg provide a study in alternating patterns. Other images play with reflections, the foreground silhouette of a dog, and an overhead view of a child with a balloon, but it’s Templeton’s consistent eye for the eccentricities of youth that keeps us looking. Two kids gnawing on a turkey leg at Disneyland and a open-mouthed sleeping couple sprawled on the pebbles of Brighton Beach in the UK both feel entirely real, and it’s the discovery of these subtle overlooked gestures that sets Templeton apart.

A more recent selection of large scale nudes shows Templeton moving to strip away unnecessary distractions. In previous works, he has often added expressive overpainted figures with swirling thought bubbles, in a sense bringing street art style to his photographs. These works go the other way, paring back the imagery to its simplest essence. His youthful California-girl female nudes are isolated against flat overpainted blocks of color, the reductive effect similar to that found in works by Slater Bradley. While Templeton has often made nude portraits of his wife Deanna, these pictures capture other models, their quiet comfortable-in-their-own-skin confidence made central by the enveloping washes of pink, yellow, and light blue.

With this sampler show as a guide, I think Templeton’s combination of an in-the-moment presence in the very specific world of Southern California skate culture and his willingness to engage that community with an unvarnished artistic eye is where his ultimate importance lies. The best of his pictures bottle the elusive elixir of youth, in all its brilliance and stupidity, finding the transformative beauty in a bloody hand, a girl on a BMX bike, or a small personal rebellion.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The clusters of prints are priced at $15000 or $18000 each. The overpainted nudes are priced at $9500 each. Individual gelatin silver prints and c-prints are either $1600, $1800, or $2200, based on size. The painted gelatin silver print is $2500. Templeton’s work has little consistent secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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