Spring Awakening: Meet the Iconoclastic Angelenos Taking the Art World by Storm

Styled by Star Burleigh Produced by Richie Villani Photographed by Magnus Unnar


Melahn Frierson

Artwork by Theodore Boyer

Two years ago, after a series of odd jobs, Melahn Frierson heard about an opening at Jeffrey Deitch’s Hollywood gallery. Following a marathon meeting where Frierson and Deitch bonded over their mutual admiration for outsider New York artists, Frierson was awarded the gig. She took over the gallery’s Instagram account and helped produce a few exhibitions, and now she’s cocurating her first major show, Shattered Glass, featuring the work of 40 emerging artists of color. “We’re tired of going into places and not seeing ourselves reflected on the walls,” says Frierson. The striking gallery director has become a muse for young Angeleno artists like Katherina Olschbaur, Theodore Boyer, and Alison Blickle, who’s currently painting Frierson as Medusa. As Donatella Versace once observed, “The Medusa is…about going all the way.”

Dress: J’Amemme | Boots: Alevì Milano | Earrings: Dsquared2 | Rings: Ettika


Jess Valice

Artwork by Jess Valice

Magnus Unnar

In 2017, after spending a few not-so-happy years studying neuroscience in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica-born artist Jess Valice returned home. “The only thing that felt good in school was painting between exams,” says Valice, 24, who has since worked as a waitress and prop-house fabricator while developing her own brand of figuration, full of hyperbolic subjects in all manner of caricature: think prairie girls driving station wagons across the desert and sheriffs riding inflatable horses in kiddie pools. “A lot of it is about redoing childhood—you want to be the outlaw but you can’t run away on a horse, so you do it on a floaty raft,” says Valice, who just had simultaneous solo debuts at ATM Gallery in New York and Bill Brady Gallery in Miami. “I like walking in the shoes of others,” she says. “Their psychology, but with my eyes.”
Bustier and trousers: ITMFL | Sandals: Shoedazzle | Earrings: Celeste Starre | Ring: Alexis Bittar


Morgan Elder and Allison Littrell

Artwork by Bri Williams

Morgan Elder and Allison Littrell first met in high school in Santa Monica, but lost touch when Elder went off to study at the Art Institute of Chicago and Littrell decamped to Bard. Soon after reuniting in L.A., they teamed up to start their own art space. “Initially, the idea was to start a gallery,” says Littrell, “but we ended up turning it into this multifaceted environment.” Murmurs, which opened in 2019 in a warehouse just south of the Fashion District, houses a popular cafe and a shop packed with a panoply of artist-made goods. Before the pandemic, the gallery in back was the scene of elaborate multimedia exhibitions, dinners, and plays. Up next: Sula Bermudez-Silverman’s solo show on the history of zombies. “We don’t mind mixing it up!” laughs Littrell.

MORGAN ELDER | Dress: Max Mara | Shoes: Christian Louboutin | Earrings: Ettika | Bracelet: Celeste Starre ◍ ALLISON LITTRELL | Jacket and trousers: Max Mara | Shoes: Christian Louboutin | Necklace and earrings: Mounser | Necklace: Celeste Starre


Ulysses De Santi and Graham Steele

Artwork by various

Dinners at the art and design-packed Hollywood Hills home of gallery director Graham Steele and his Brazilian-design-dealer husband Ulysses De Santi used to draw a guest list as eclectic and glittering as the decor, from MOCA chief Klaus Bisenbach to Courtney Love. “We love mixing artists, collectors, people from Hollywood, with doctors, lawyers, and architects,” says Steele, who recently departed a high-profile post at Hauser and Wirth to strike out on his own. “We like to open up the way we live our lives.” Vows De Santi: “As soon as COVID is past us, we’ll continue throwing those salons to bring people back together.” Until then, Steele is working to bring under-represented Brazilian artists to the U.S. market while De Santi is planning a series of pop-ups around the globe to showcase the best of mid-century Brazilian design. The first will take place at the Aspen offshoot of Mexico City’s Galeria Mascota, with other offshoots coming up in Seoul and Los Angeles. “If nothing else, last year taught us we don’t want a permanent space because of the overhead,” says De Santi. “Ulysses thrives off finding specific work for a specific city, with a specific energy, and his attitude also inspired me,” says Steele. “I didn’t leave the best gallery in the world to open a space that has to be one thing or another. We’re in a period of incredible flexibility, and it’s exciting because we don’t feel we need to commit ourselves to one particular idea right now. We can do what feels right at the moment.”

ULYSSES DE SANTI | Jacket: Emporio Armani | Top: Bombas | Sneakers: Kenneth Cole | Bracelet: Mr. Ettika ◍ GRAHAM STEELE | Jacket and top: COS | Pants: Banana Republic | Boots: Kenneth Cole


Jennifer Rochlin

Artwork by Jennifer Rochlin

Magnus Unnar

Baltimore native Jennifer Rochlin was a painter until she got a teaching gig at a Catholic girls school in La Cañada, where she launched a ceramics program in the early aughts. “I had never touched clay before,” says Rochlin, who began painting tiles in 2008. “But from then on, I just couldn’t stop. I love the feel of clay. And the alchemical process—the initial immediacy—is kind of addictive.” In the years since, her pots—filled with narrative paintings, sgraffito scratches, even bite marks—have teased out facets of her psyche, earning her solo shows at the Pit in Glendale, Maki Gallery in Tokyo, and Greenwich House Pottery in New York. In April, she’ll have her third major show at the Pit, in dialogue with works by the late ceramic icon Viola Frey. “There’s no baggage with clay,” she says. “I can go full tilt with it and just play.”

Blazer, tunic, and trousers: Michael Kors | Shoes: Rene Caovilla | Earrings: Zhendong Wen


Monique McWilliams and Lauren Halsey

Artwork by Lauren Halsey

Magnus Unnar

South Central-born artist Lauren Halsey had just come off a meteoric three-year run—one in which her sculptural environments depicting Black life earned her the $100,000 Mohn Award at the Hammer Museum’s 2018 Made In L.A. biennial—when she signed a lease on a building next door to her Inglewood art studio. The plan was to use the space as a community center. But in the wake of the pandemic, Halsey switched gears and turned the space into a distribution outpost that delivered more than 19,000 boxes of produce to feed more than 100,000 residents of South Central. Helping head up the effort was Halsey’s girlfriend, Monique McWilliams, who left her popular vintage-clothing business, relaunching this year as Tru2Form, to serve as her aide de camp. “We’re exhausted,” says Halsey. “But this work re-energizes me.”
MONIQUE MCWILLIAMS | Shirt: Chanel | Pants: Tru2Form | Shoes: Found/vintage ◍ LAUREN HALSEY | Top: The Family Clothing | Pants: Kevin Emerson | Shoes: Found/vintage


Nicolette Mishkan and Ben Lee Ritchie Handler

Artwork by Katherina Olschbaur

Magnus Unnar

In 2014, when he was the archivist at the Gagosian gallery, Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, 41, discovered the Insta account @permaidmermaid, which featured L.A.-born artist Nicolette Mishkan, 34, staging impromptu performances as a black-latex-clad mermaid. “Permaid was the synthesis of everything aesthetically and curatorially I was interested in,” says Ritchie Handler, now the global director of Nicodim Gallery. “Most people come at curating from an anthropological point of view, but I like creating a narrative.” In 2016, Ritchie Handler, also a fixture of the downtown scene for his drag alter ego, Olivia Neutron Bomb, began collaborating with Mishkan (whose mermaid paintings earned a recent solo show at Shoot the Lobster) and the rest is history. “We’re both creating personas that fill a void,” says Mishkan.

NICOLETTE MISHKAN | Top and pants: J’Amemme | Earrings: Mounser ◍ BEN LEE RITCHIE HANDLER | Blazer and pants: ITMFL | Shoes: Saint Laurent


Terrell Tilford

Artwork by Tiffanie Delune

Magnus Unnar

In his twenties, Terrell Tilford began buying artworks by seminal Black artists. “At one point, I probably had installment plans going on with five different galleries,” says Tilford, who worked as an actor before he became a gallerist, establishing the Artist Showcase Series in New York with four other budding dealers. “I laugh now because the acronym was ASS,” he says. In the early aughts, Tilford and his wife, actress Victoria Platt, moved to L.A. and spent a year hosting shows out of their Mid-City home. “We moved all of our furniture out on the weekends,” says Tilford. Then, in 2015, Tilford relaunched his art group as Band of Vices. Since, they’ve become kingmakers for emerging talent like Grace Lynne Haynes and Penda Diakité. But Tilford steers clear of the frenzy around BIPOC artists. “I tell my staff, “Let’s just do the work,” he says.

Jacket and sweater: Stella McCartney | Pants: COS | Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti | Glasses: Warby Parker | Watch: Hublot | Necklaces and bracelet: Mr. Ettika


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Letters: Tobacco’s toll | Police reform | More than shelter | Chinatown’s bane | Single-payer plan

Submit your letter to the editor via this form. Read more Letters to the Editor.


Tobacco exacerbatesscourge of COVID

While our attention has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the radical changes in our everyday lives, the CDC is reporting another and equally serious epidemic: the 480,000 U.S. deaths every year from tobacco use.

These deaths come not just from lung and other cancers, but also heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, tuberculosis and COPD. Persons who vape are more likely to contract both influenza and the COVID-19 virus. Menthol and other flavored tobaccos which are targeted at teenagers and African Americans are especially insidious products.

So, protect yourself and others by neither smoking nor vaping, but rather by staying home, wearing masks, washing hands and keeping your distance from persons not in your household. It’s a small effort in order to stay alive. And get your vaccine shot when available.

Bruce FiedlerDublin

Antioch PD must makechanges to save lives

Re. “Family challenges police account of man’s detainment before death,” (Page B1, Feb. 19):

There is no good reason my brother Angelo should not be alive today. Angelo was not violent, made no threats of violence, and made no effort to escape their restraint. He had no weapons or drugs, nor did he present himself as if he did.

My family, our friends and our community are all seeking justice and lasting change. We are seeking, more than words, implementation. We’re working to ensure that no more families have to endure the anguish and grief we are experiencing.

We call for:

• The police to officially and legally prohibit the knee-to-neck restraint used on Angelo Quinto.

• The police to establish and fully fund 24/7 mental health crisis response teams.

• The police to require body and dash cameras for all police officers, that cannot be manually turned off.

Isabella Quinto CollinsAntioch

Help doesn’t endat giving shelter

Re. “Hotel operator under fire amid complaints,” (Page B1, Feb. 26):

The operator of the COVID hotel where a 5-week-old baby died should have prevented this.

Part of housing the homeless, especially for a faith-based organization, should be outreach and counseling. Instead, GRIP is simply warehousing people in quarters that were not meant for long-term occupancy, with little supervision or even daily visits from the organization purporting to help. This is a huge failure.

Housing is only one piece of the puzzle. A quarter of a million dollars a month should be more than enough to care for people more humanely.

Shannon EricksonWalnut Creek

‘Anything goes’ attitudedestroying Chinatown

The destruction of Oakland’s Chinatown from crime and homelessness should be a wake-up call to everyone that allowing sleeping on the sidewalks, public defecation and drug abuse openly on the street only invites more crimes like robberies and assaults.

For years, Oakland allowed the homeless mentally ill and drug abusers to openly sleep and defecate on the streets of Chinatown. The police also refused to enforce trespass laws or get people into treatment or face any other consequences for their bad behavior.

What followed was an open invitation to other actors to prey further on the elderly and Asian population with assaults and robberies since there was seemingly an “anything goes” attitude by the city while other parts of downtown were not so affected.

The decline of Chinatown is an example of the “broken windows” theory that if you let one thing go then much worse things will follow.

Nick YaleOakland

Single-payer proposalfar from waste of time

I am very disappointed with your editorial on Feb. 23 that disparages AB 1400, a single-payer health care proposal, because of a lack of a financial plan (“Single-payer bill is a big waste of legislators’ time,” Page A6).

This is a very important bill, much improved from SB 562, that deserves robust discussion and serious consideration. Financing for such a program would be decided in legislative committee or through separate legislation.

Passage of AB 1400 creates a mandate for our legislators to do just that — produce a healthcare financing plan “that benefits consumers, health care providers and the business community.”

Janet ThomasLafayette

High level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy found among Black Americans

Black Americans have a high level of vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines, including among Black health care workers, according to a new RAND Corporation survey.

Those who expressed vaccine hesitancy also showed high levels of overall mistrust in the vaccine, concerns about potential harm and side effects, and lack of confidence in vaccine effectiveness and safety.

Participants in the RAND survey reported higher trust in COVID-19 information from health care providers and public health officials than from elected local and federal officials.

The findings are based on a survey of 207 Black Americans who are participants in the RAND American Life Panel, a nationally representative internet panel. Participants were surveyed during November and December 2020.

Public health messages and communication strategies to address vaccine hesitancy should be tailored through authentic community engagement. Messaging about COVID-19 vaccines should first acknowledge systemic racism as a justifiable reason for mistrust before providing transparent information about the vaccine, including specific information about efficacy and safety.”

Laura M. Bogart, Study’s Lead Author and Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND

The survey found that mistrust of the government’s motives and transparency around COVID-19, as well as beliefs about racism in health care, appear to be contributing to mistrust of the vaccine. In addition, the more participants believed that people close to them would want them to get vaccinated, the more likely they were to say that they would get vaccinated themselves.

Black Americans attribute their medical mistrust, in general and specific to COVID-19 vaccines, to systemic racism, including discrimination and mistreatment in health care, as well as by the government.

Overall, more than one-third of all survey participants agreed or strongly agreed that they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, and an additional 25% said they “don’t know” if they would become vaccinated. Only 40% indicated that they planned to get vaccinated.

Participants in health care fields, including health care practitioners and those in technical and support occupations, showed higher vaccine hesitancy. Specifically, 48% of participants in health care fields indicated that they would not get vaccinated, compared with 32% of participants who were not in health care-related occupations.

When asked about which sources they trusted for information about COVID-19, nearly two-thirds of all respondents said that they trusted health care professionals such as doctors and nurses. Health care providers were trusted by higher percentages of participants who said that they would get the vaccine (72%) than those who said that they would not (56%).

Participants said that public health campaigns should involve trusted, known community members and trusted local organizations. Some participants suggested partnerships with Black celebrities such as hip-hop artists to encourage vaccination.

American actress storms Golden Globes in African print dress [Photos]

American actress, Viola Davis, made a fashion statement at the 2021 Golden Globe Awards despite making a virtual appearance from her home due to COVID-19.

Actress Viola Davis makes a statement in stunning African print dress at 2021 Golden Globes (Photos)

The 55-year-old actress was nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but she lost the award to Andra Day for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

Actress Viola Davis makes a statement in stunning African print dress at 2021 Golden Globes (Photos)

For the event, Viola rocked a stunning multi-coloured, off-shoulder silk cotton African print gown designed by Los Angeles-based designer, Claude ‘Lavie’ Kameni.

She also wore a thick braided necklace and earrings that were designed by Pomellato with a clutch by Gabo Guzo.

Actress Viola Davis makes a statement in stunning African print dress at 2021 Golden Globes (Photos)

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