A California close-up: Lindsey Warren's neon succulent cluster
As a native New Yorker, the words “downtown” and “succulents” would appear to have little to do with one another, unless perhaps used in reference to some cute shop wherein millennials might add new plant babies to their ever-expanding brood. As someone who’s been bicoastal for nearly a decade, however, the pairing of these two words epitomizes the exact thing that has dazzled and confounded me about California since first setting foot in this Golden State nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Downtown Succulents, our third release from LA-based painter Lindsey Warren, is exactly what it says on the label: some glorious, gregarious plant-life reaching up towards a warm November sun as I type, unfurling its too-vibrant-to-be-real greens and nearly-neon reds against the hustle and bustle of one of America’s largest and most diverse cities.
What Downtown Succulents represents, to your humble correspondent at least, is the myth and miracle of California itself. Warren’s previous 20x200 releases celebrate Los Angeles from afar: in Welcome, the bluest of skies melts into a sherbet-shaded horizon, punctuated by three spindly palms, with the chockablock rooftops in the foreground hinting at the lowrise sprawl of the city that stretches far beyond the frame. It’s easy to imagine myself admiring the richly hued sky of Northeast LA from the deck of a midcentury glass box perched precariously on a Silver Lake hillside, with the thrum of freeways as a soundtrack. With Downtown Succulents, Warren zooms in tight on the flora that flourishes in the dry heat of Southern California, along with the glorious light that attracts artists from all over the world.
All these years later, I’m still astounded by what grows naturally in California: the super-sized redwoods, the several-stories high aloe buds sprouting from a thicket of sturdy fronds alongside the freeways, the sorts of trees I’d only ever seen in Dr. Seuss books prior to landing in San Francisco in the 90s. Back in my beloved NYC it’s easy to forget that the ocean is just a train ride away or that our office in Dumbo is just a block shy of waterfront property. Not so in California, where nature is always close at hand, along with constant reminders of how our human impact diminishes and endangers it.
Obviously California hasn't cornered the market on nature in our fair nation (some parts even have seasons!) but there is something about its nature that's so incredible and abundant as to seem otherworldly. A fantasy of what nature is supposed to be, and Californians get to live in it. Alas, the ugly truth is that we only get to do so because of all the wacky engineering we've done to compensate for the arid climate, the freeways we've built to move through it, and the out-but-not-up building we've done upon it. The increasing ferocity and length of our fire seasons is hard evidence that there are enormous costs and risks associated with all that we've done, and it's abundantly clear that we need to make some major changes in order to save nature and ourselves.
Downtown Succulents honors the beauty and persistence of nature in the presence of humanity, and can also be seen as a reminder of what's at stake in the fight to save California for, and from, us.