Kaari Upson

2 Stories



Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1

The artistry of Kaari Upson lies in recycling, repurposing and reframing. She has an eye for the subtly peculiar, and knack for throwing a spotlight on it, imbuing what might seem unworthy of attention with uncanny weight and intrigue. That is, Upson’s art is, in some ways, as much about process as it is product — as much about her intense, sometimes obsessive, focus on a subject as it is about the subject itself. Here, for NeueJournal’s inaugural print publication, she reforms the surfaces of an empty Las Vegas house.


Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1  Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1 Artwork by Kaari Upson | NeueJournal Issue 1


All images courtesy of Kaari Upson Studio


The color scheme of dreams

ED RUSCHA - Feature Image

Across the universe of Los Angeles, Kaari Upson encounters the familiar stranger of Ed Ruscha. The artists wrestle with the color scheme of dreams, the fast-food trap of nostalgia, and the significance of playing your part in a dark story.


KAARI UPSON: Are you ever concerned with disappointment?


ED RUSCHA: Disappointment, God, yes. That happens all the time, but we roll along and don’t do anything too drastic.


KU: What is drastic?


ER: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, you want to follow your instincts on things and when they don’t work out— so what? You start over again.


KU: That’s fascinating. Have you ever had a disappointment so large that you reflect on it and get that feeling—


ER: Yeah, I missed out, and maybe I didn’t play my part in the whole thing. Maybe it’s actually me and not the other person. There are so many combinations of things that have to mesh. You have your initial responses to people, and they don’t always come out right, but it’s easy to sweep them under the rug. Like forget it. Get it out of your sight, if it doesn’t work.




KU: It’s funny—I have this strange indifference towards looking at the past. When my dad looks back at the past and is nostalgic, rather than remembering it and wanting to sweep it under the rug, or forget it and look forward, he looks back and remembers it incorrectly. I’ve always had a definition of nostalgia as a memory of a past that never existed. Do you feel more likely to look at the past with some sort of sheen on it, or do you remember it?


ER: I actually love it. I love to think that way. Sometimes I find myself living in a black and white world. I see that place, but I still view it as I had when I grew up there, and that was in the ’40s and ’50s. I always view things like that. I like to look at old Studebakers or old Hudson automobiles, but it’s more like a fantasy that never reaches into my work. Artists who do use nostalgia in their work fall into a fast-food trap. It’s a dead end. It’s usually uninteresting to me. But the idea of nostalgia is rich.


KU: It’s interesting because I could have misremembered this, but I was really into researching dreams for a long time and they say that 90 percent of all people, maybe even higher than that, only dream in black and white. I never fully understood what that meant until I finally had a color dream where I had a cartoon character in it that was bright green and then all of a sudden I remembered the greenness of this thing in my dream. It became clear to me that I was a part of the 90 percent who dream in black and white. Somebody said that it had something to do with generations. The study was based on a generation who grew up with black and white TV, or black and white images, and that somehow seeped into our unconsciousness so deeply that it’s very difficult to work in color. Do you dream in color?


ER: I have before. But most of them are in scratchy black and white. They’re scratches on a film. Sometimes it’s of old things and things I’ve experienced before. I’ve always had this dream where a car is coming down the street and I’m in the street. I have to get out of the street, but I’m crawling, and I’m moving very slow, trying to get to the gutter on the other side of the street so I can miss this car. The car is moving, but it’s moving very slow. And then I just keep on moving. Nothing ever happens in this dream, except that it gets repeated six months later. And also dreams are okay, but I have to write them down instantly when I wake up, or poof they’re gone.




KU: Do you write your dreams down?


ER: Yeah. And I had this dream once that I turned into an artwork, a drawing. It came to me in a series of words. It was almost like a guy was in a union hall, and he was preaching to these workers. He said, “Okay, what is it that all you guys want, Pontiac Catalinas?” I just took that in my dream and said, “God that’s got some substance to it. I’m going to use that.” So I did. And it’s got no fruit to it. I’ve never ridden in a Pontiac and I’ve never had one, so why Pontiac Catalinas, and why union halls of autoworkers? I don’t know. That’s the diabolical thing about dreams.


KU: So, let me ask you—I was in New York and I never wanted to leave. I never wanted to come back to Los Angeles. I grew up out here—not in LA proper. Where I’m from is so far from LA, but the weather’s similar. And the lack of winters brought back an emotional stagnancy that I wasn’t totally looking forward to. I’ve changed my mind since. I don’t want to make artwork in New York. I don’t know how I would make artwork in New York, to be honest, especially considering the kind of work I make. What do you love about LA at this point?



ER: You almost got me on that one. It’s like a big mix master here. I’ve got moments when I hate this place and then I’ve been here so long, I forget why I even stay here. But It’s all food for thought. And somehow I get something from it. It’s a dynamic place. You can chase rainbows out here if you want. There’s a lot to see. That’s why I came here to begin with. Everything’s twinkled and sparkled.


KU: It had an underbelly to it that was also as dark as it was light. That seems to be going on too. The city is not just purely twinkling and full of fantasy. It’s got some really deep dark undersides to it.


ER: Yeah, and you’re part of it! You’re playing your part in this dark story!


Photography: Brigitte Lacombe for NeueJournal
Guest Photo Editor: Janet Johnson