6/5/2014 UPDATE: The Downtown Independent is screening Tamar Halpern's documentary "One Man Band" through June 12. And you can bring beer into the theater!
In February, Off-Ramp interviewed Llyn Foulkes, a neglected Young Turk artist of the 1960s who didn’t find his place in the LA pantheon until well after her turned 70. The occasion for our interview was the Hammer Museum’s career retrospective of Foulkes. Now, there’s a new film documentary about him, screening June 20 and 22 at the LA Film Festival.
What happens after the happy ending? It’s a question that rarely occurs to us in America, least of all in media-centric L.A., where happy endings are manufactured by the yard.
Llyn Foulkes, the formerly obscure, currently renowned LA artist and musician whose bas-relief canvases can take well over a decade to complete. After forty odd years of toil, Foulkes’ happy ending came in 2009, when a group show at the Hammer Museum about unsung LA artists vaulted him to fame, age 74.
The revival has extended to Foulkes' musical side-project too, as sole proprietor of the Machine, a massive percussive art project that resembles a drum kit or a xylophone the way the Hollywood sign resembles a business card. Same components, utterly different effect.
(VIDEO: Llyn Foulkes Tunes Up His Machine for a Photographer, by RH Greene.)
And now comes a documentary about Foulkes’ painstaking artistic method, called Llyn Foulkes: One Man Band, directed by his friend Tamar Halpern and her friend Chris Quilty. Tamar’s long journey with her film mirrors Foulkes’ creative process in more ways than one.
The Llyn Foulkes of One Man Band is a Lear figure, raging against the dying of the light in a world that has deprived him of his legacy. Now, 78, he’s fascinating, difficult and eccentric—a cantankerous solo act and a changeling, so afraid to be pinned down that it’s a mystery even to Tamar Halpern why Foulkes let her make a film about him.
According to Halpern, Foulkes’ contrarian impulse was even activated by the film itself, when he changed a habit of decades after seeing it depicted onscreen. Instead of traveling to Tommy's for his burgers, he switched to In-n-Out.
One ghost that haunts One Man Band is the failure of Foulkes’ second marriage, as depicted in The Awakening, a major canvas that was exhibited twice in forms Foulkes destroyed and revised before completing it in 2012, after almost two decades of work. As a metaphor for unresolved love, The Awakening and its process are riveting. And like most metaphors, it didn’t solve a thing.
The art market loves Foulkes now, and his prices are way up. But music is Foulkes main pursuit these days. On canvas, he works in depth—forced perspectives are central to his aesthetic. And in old age, Foulkes is losing the very faculty he needs to create his art. He's suffering from macular degeneration.
So: What happens after the happy ending? The story goes on—twisting, changing. And the fortunate ones among us find someone to tell that story to, and sometimes even someone to tell it with and for.