Lyle Owerko, a stedfast figure in the youth culture movement, interprets his artistic expression through a singular item: the boombox. This winter, Owerko’s latest exhibition, The Boombox Project 2020, opens at Art Angels gallery in Los Angeles Thursday Jan. 23 and runs through February. Here, we talk to the artist about his inspirations, his renowned work and how his status as an Angeleno plays into his art.
You're a self-confessed 'pop-culture junkie.' What in that realm is currently catching your eye?
Right now, I’m really inspired by neon colors, rounded edges, industrial signage and elements of both high and low culture from the 80s and 90s. For this current show, paint-jobs from custom cars in the 70s and 80s inspired the final treatment to the sculptures. We used metal flake paint and plenty of “candy coat” to realize unique and bold interpretations of the new projects (which center around boomboxes and their place in society as both icons and symbols of freedom and empowerment). I looked at the new sculptures as “Custom Vans,” and just short of painting a sunset or a warrior on the side of the boomboxes, we managed to tip the scales in matters of both bold statement and off-the-charts color schemes.
What role did the boombox play in your youth?
The boombox was a freedom device. It really allowed one to curate their own existence—I could listen to cassettes, exchange mixtapes and build a thread of purpose and perspective through my youth. The boombox really allowed for one to feel like the center of their own universe of both music and creative curation.
Pieces from this collection are housed in some of the most renowned art institutions in the world. Where do you imagine your pieces finding a home?
With music now playing through peoples homes in so many manners of choice (such as the ubiquity of wireless home audio systems) the “visual” and “ physical” presence to music has disappeared in a large part. In the 70s and 80s home Hi-Fi Systems were such a huge part of the decor. Now that things have changed the love of music is in search of visual's to compliment that feeling—my art appeals to those who like to make a statement, and for that statement to have many. many layers. This new body of work really amplifies a room, sets the tone for discussion and adds a lot of swagger to any environment. The art is bold yet confident, like a lot of my clients.
Looking back at 10 years of boombox art, how has your perspective on the iconic sound system changed, if at all?
In ten years cultural shifts, societal shifts and changes in both how we create and consume music has changed. We have so many channels of entertainment vying for our attention now. My goal has been to slow that down and create contemplative moments, moments where my art quiets the pace down and creates room for inspiration and enlightenment, where the imagery is a springboard to new thoughts and ideas. Art should challenge you, but also soothe you. The images in the current show at Art Angels aim to do both.
How has being an Angeleno influenced your work?
After 25 years in New York, I’m a recent Angeleno, but I can say matter-of-factly that light in L.A. is very special. It is inspiring so many new ideas, as well as allowing me to access so many magnificent fabricators and possibilities for creative collaborations. The L.A. area is home to a whole history of innovation, from music to fashion to industrial and product design, I’m excited to participate in this cultural hub that influences so many trends around the world.
What parts of Los Angeles culture do you tend to draw inspiration from?
I love the back-streets of L.A. There’s no better route of inspiration than to zig-zag through the back roads of the downtown industrial areas (my metal plater is in DTLA), and the tracts of vendors in North Hollywood (such as my custom painters and sculpture fabricators). They are all part of a high and lowbrow culture of authenticity that makes this city special. I love L.A. for the light, the warmth and the culture of innovation. L.A. is home.
Photography by: "The Boombox Project 2020" by Lyle Owerko at Art Angels Gallery