Indeed, at These Days, a gallery known for championing punk history, Waplington’s exhibition, curated by the art adviser Thomas Solomon, takes its title from a sense of volatility. The “visual scrambling” within the works is a “metaphysical representation of mass hysteria, that moment within a society when the constructed order breaks down and collectively society starts to implode and there is a release of pressure, the kettle blows and a state of chaos envelopes the multitude,” as Waplington says. This mental state, the teetering before the fall, “always turns out to be a false alarm — but it is an interesting thing to make art about, for sure.”
In the meantime, he creates a more personal “year zero approach” whenever he starts to feel the encroachment of technique. “I think it is important to keep things in flux,” says Waplington, who began keeping sketchbooks while living in Santa Monica in the 1990s and moved back to Southern California from London last year. Many of the works in the show have been made since then, as Waplington has focused almost exclusively on painting in his outside studio near Los Angeles’s Elysian Park during the “long hours of sunlight,” taking a run in the hills before the heat comes. The city’s inchoateness is a conducive environment for tackling a particular problem of painting, the photographer says — especially the sometimes agonizing ability to, “start from nothing” over and over, especially for an artist who seems to resist calm.
The pieces in the show “seem to take place somewhere high above the city looking down on its mazes of freeways and wide streets; it’s energetic, gestural and free-feeling much like the city itself,” says Stephen Zeigler, who founded These Days with his wife, Jodi, in a 1887 building downtown that has had various histories as a piano shop, a headquarters of a youth communist group and a flophouse. The couple first discovered Waplington’s work through the book “Surf Riot,” shot during a spontaneous melee after a 1986 surf contest. (Jodi, who was on the Huntington High School surf team, was present at the event.) “I didn’t want to be on some sort of treadmill of production,” Waplington says of his eye for upheaval — unless, of course, destruction can be productive. He admits that he works every day so that problems that arise in one piece can be addressed in the next: “I am seeking and searching constantly. People ask me what I find interesting, and the answer is everything.”