ALIA MALLEY

Artist Statement - A Cavalier in Sight of a Village

 

The first time I drove through the north end of the San Fernando Valley and saw a kid on a horse down in the arroyo, I almost careened my car off the road. This sighting was just like the scene in Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic, Chinatown: “The water . . . it comes in different parts of the river . . . every night a different part . . .” A 1970s filmed version of a fictionalized 1930s Los Angeles had come alive in front of me in 2010. Unbelievable things happen along the edges of the city. I like to make photographs there.

 

Around the same time, I stumbled across a dubious website offering “hand-painted oil reproductions” of classic paintings, including one landscape of a horse and rider on the outskirts of a town, attributed to Courbet from 1872, and entitled A Cavalier in Sight of a Village (the title itself is dubious, as further research returned limited information). I envisioned highly skilled Chinese laborers in Shenzen churning out the fakes, images that—at least in terms of subject matter—are not so dissimilar from my current experience of driving along the unincorporated fringes of the Valley. In the 21st century the cavaliers ride in sight of Los Angeles. I take my title from this. 

 

Beyond the invocation of Chinatown and imagery of travelers on horseback in classical Old Master paintings, there was also the cowboy factor to contend with. Often the scenes in front of me felt straight out of a Western. Or more specifically, a mid-20th century scripted Hollywood version of the 19th century American West.  Maybe this imagery is just as phony as the Chinese reproductions:  images based on other images with historical precedence. Or maybe not. Either way, I find this compelling.

 

As I made these photographs, I literally worked in sight of my own village—I realized my locations fell within the Studio Zone, the film industry term for the 30 mile radius around Hollywood that allows union film crews to work as locals. This also placed me in the vicinity of the original movie ranches, the parcels of land that were transformed into permanent Old West towns and homestead sets.  So empirically, the cowboy in the landscape imagery should not be unfamiliar—we know this is where those iconic movies were made.  But the last thing we expect to see in contemporary Los Angeles is a real-world cowboy, or a cavalier, or their horse. But there they are.  I have the pictures to prove it.