Visual Focus: Annie Pendergrast’s rocks

One of Annie Pendergrast‘s most captivating series of work is simply titled ‘Rocks’. Also impressively skilled in drawing, painting and collage-making, Los Angeles based artist Pendergrast’s distinctive style is characterised by her use of bright, highly saturated colours, against deep hues of blues, purples and metallics, which she describes as “similiar to a bioluminescent deep sea creature”. Taking an object already naturally formed in its shape and structure, it is clearly Pendergrast’s colour – and its application – that makes her rocks as majestic as they seem in their final form. “For a while I was only working with the colours that reminded me of Disneyland, cobalt blue, “blue flame”, neon pink, and neon yellow”, she notes.

“Like LA, a city loaded with tension and contradiction where gorgeous sunsets are the result of a frightening smog problem, the day-glo colours that I use are pretty, but also unsafe.”

Before Pendergrast began applying colour to rocks and rubble, she was experimenting with spray painting textured paper with coloured light gradients. Finding beauty in a pressure malfunction that occurs when the spray can is pointed down or to the side, she began to use the aesthetic effect caused by this malfunction to her advantage. The resulting splattering pigment dust and paint gloops create visual contrasts agreeable to the eye, and as they take a life of their own, their final resting place on the chosen surface becomes less dependant on the artist’s control and more a case of natural chance. Seeing this application to the rocks, it is how the colour lands on the uneven terrain, resting in its rocky crevices, that adds to its unusual texture.

It’s Pendergrast’s story of how she moved onto using rocks as her main medium that stands out. Around the time of her experimentation with spray paint, there was a house fire two blocks away from the art centre where she worked teaching printmaking to adults with disabilities. “Coincidentally, it was located in a beautiful old firehouse building. Smoke and sirens ignited the client behaviours, and pandemonium ensued”, she explains. In the aftermath, she would each day visit the wreckage of what was once a home during her lunch break, in the search for interesting debris. She collected rubble, bricks and broken cement, bathed them, and began painting them with the same technique. “Taking remnants of damage and making them into something I considered to be humorous became synonymous with the ways that I was dealing with the emotional exhaustion of my job. Similar to the Dave Chappelle skit where he plays an addict who wins a massive crack rock and gives it to his wife in lieu of a diamond ring, the intention with my rock imagery is to use humour to make an honest statement about greed and inequality.”

Pendergrast’s display of her rocks has however caused some bother, to herself as an artist and certain members of the community alike. “My aim was to disperse my rocks into the world, but the first attempts were met with rejection. When I put a ziggurat that I built out of spray painted bricks in a nook in the wall surrounding the freeway not far from my house, a woman drove up and shouted, “This is a community and we do not want your graffiti.” She also returned one piece of her newly decorated rubble to the site of the house fire, to find that by the next day, it had gone.

Perhaps these responses to the public displays of her art so far only highlight that the want to make a statement about human greed has in fact successfully been achieved. There is certainly humour and absurdity in taking unwanted scrap, symbolic of ugly destruction, and recycling it into something visually desirable to the human gaze. “Like LA, a city loaded with tension and contradiction where gorgeous sunsets are the result of a frightening smog problem, the day-glo colours that I use are pretty, but also unsafe. I consider my inclination to use these the colours to be symbolic of the overabundance of the digital age and millennial culture.” Playing with the complexities of contrast between allure and disregard, and the hazards of attraction, there is much more to Pendergrast’s rocks than what first meets the eye.

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