Michael C. McMillen, “Inner City (detail)” (1977–78, restored 2018), Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow, Scotland

New York may have Times Square, but in no other American city are signs as integral to — and integrated into — the urban landscape as in Los Angeles. The city’s low-sling sprawl, best traversed by automobile, necessitates a visual language that commands attention as you speed by on freeways or meander down boulevards. From small neighborhood markets, shops, and bars, to glitzy restaurants, theaters, and clubs, eye-catching signage is essential for businesses to stand out in this visually cacophonous metropolis.

Once predominantly hand-painted or crafted from tubes of neon, signs became largely digitally printed and commercially manufactured over the years, although a current resurgence of the art of hand-lettering is taking place. Next Wednesday evening, the ICA LA will bring together two Angeleno artists to discuss the history of sign painting in Los Angeles. Ralph “Doc” Guthrie has been a commercial sign painter in Los Angeles for over four decades, and has taught in the Sign Graphics program at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC) for 24 years — the same program he graduated from in 1974. One of his students was Michael C. McMillen, an installation artist and filmmaker whose incredibly detailed tableaux reproduce miniature versions of everyday buildings and structures.

Artist Tucker Neel will moderate the discussion, which is organized in conjunction with the exhibition This Brush for Hire: Norm Laich and Many Other Artists. Often considered the go-to sign painter for artists who want hand-lettered text in their work, Laich has collaborated with artists ranging from John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner, to Joseph Daniel Martinez, Mike Kelley, and Stephen Prina.

When: Wednesday, June 20, 7:30–9pm
Where: Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1717 E 7th St, Downtown, Los Angeles)

More info at ICA LA.

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Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.