I was compelled to write about “And the red death held sway over the dollar store,” a current solo show at Gallery 30 South, because a lot of photographers try to convey what artist Wyatt Doyle’s photos actually do convey: some people are lucky, and some people aren’t. The Los Angeles Beat recently found out more about the art and the artist during a phone conversation.
Doyle, the New Texture founder, prefers lomography, a spontaneous, no-frills approach to photo-taking. He respects the “this is what I’ve got, what can I do with this?” approach. “It’s become almost a point of pride for me,” he says. Following this ethos, Doyle uses commercial-grade digital cameras.
“Bench Ad” is from his old neighborhood on La Brea, north of Melrose, in Los Angeles. The bowed head of the man in rags on the bench gives an anonymity, Doyle points out to me. The ads behind the man – of mega-millionaires among gold towers promoting their latest movie, and of a diverse group happily smiling as they promote a TV series – emphasize wealth disparity as they contrast with the man on the bench, a photograph that conveys such troubling unfairness in our country.
What it takes to maintain a home and an income and a self-presentation that doesn’t scare people is a tremendous challenge, I’ve long thought. How to fit in, or at least survive with basic needs met, when a society accepts and rewards only a very narrow way of being? Doyle is fascinated and horrified by advertising, and looks at it with “tremendous suspicion” because ads are “presenting this myth, this idealized life, that a lot of us are not a part of, and we’re not privy to, and we’re very much excluded from.” There was a large homeless population in his old neighborhood, people he got to know as he took buses and walked around.
The blue and gold sombrero worn around the shoulders of a man in “El Santo” impresses me. Shot in downtown LA, the photo is one of Doyle’s favorites because it captures a “serene moment from chaos.” The man in the photo had been aggressively asking for money, then suddenly knelt, calm. When I first viewed the photo, I thought about mental health, and how our society only allows a very specific and limited mental health, and how true artistry, originality, and creativity are usually shunned.
But Doyle reassured me without my even asking him to do so. A motivated artist without a platform will find one or create one, Doyle said, mentioning a series of portraits he’d seen drawn on lined spiral notepaper plastered over various light poles in North Hollywood. One day, on his lunch break, Doyle saw a man sketching in a spiral notebook and he just knew it was the artist of the lined notepaper portraits. So Doyle walked over, introducing himself, and Richard Woods became an early contributor to New Texture. Woods was living on the street, and “doing what he could with what he had, which was almost nothing.”
Walking around and taking the bus slows you down and opens you up, Doyle said; there’s a lot of time spent waiting, killing time. Freeways and car-driving prevent spontaneous encounters with people and limits experiences with locations, he explains. He found the images for the exhibition because he was looking, and because he took the time to look.
I ask him why we make art and write. “I think we’re fascinated by each other. We’re trying to figure out things, answer questions that we have about ourselves that we struggle with or are fascinated by, and I think we take cues, and we take clues, from the people around us, and…creating art is just an extension of that.”
Doyle was born and raised in Lansdowne, PA, just outside Philadelphia, the second of four kids. His dad was a middle school English teacher, and his mom a homemaker. On holidays, instead of asking for the usual gifts, his dad would ask his kids for original writing. So Doyle wrote short stories, essays, poems. Doyle loved movies and reading literature as a kid, too, acted in plays, and devoured the monster magazines his uncle, who worked in a drugstore, would bring to him. His dad collected records, and Doyle would try to suss out narratives he thought must be hidden in their psychedelic covers. I ask if he was popular growing up, and he says he was an “amiable outsider.” But it was when Doyle attended Bennington College, in Vermont, that he met “real artistic confederates.” He worked hourly wage jobs until around 1994, when he moved to Los Angeles, taking the train “because it was cheaper.” The trip took several days, and it wasn’t “exactly scenic.”
He got a retail job at the infamous adult bookstore, Circus of Books, which seems “a lot more fun in retrospect.” He mostly worked the graveyard shift, restocking, tidying up, making sure the papers got delivered at dawn and displaying them. The West Hollywood location where he worked was across from a popular cruising spot, The Gold Coast, which attracted lots of wild customers. Doyle remembers taking out the trash at dawn and seeing a regular in his parked car, masturbating. “Was he waiting for you?” I ask. “For anybody!” Doyle replies.
Doyle next worked at Paramount and later, at Warner Brothers, as a development executive, assessing scripts and novels for movies and TV. “Everybody who’s ever worked in Hollywood or worked in the motion picture industry for any length of time has experienced some kind of abusive behavior,” Doyle told me, explaining that it was accepted as how the industry worked. But it didn’t work for Doyle. At some companies, “if you weren’t out crying in the hallway, you felt like going out and crying in the hallway.” He told me it was worse for support staff such as receptionists and personal assistants, being constantly berated and belittled. Doyle believes people are complicit when they don’t speak up, and feels embarrassed he didn’t call it out sooner. But often people don’t speak up because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs, he said. He felt liberated when he decided he didn’t want to be an executive at movie studios anymore, telling me that #MeToo exists because someone stood up. Tarana Burke coined the term in 2006, founding the movement that calls out sexual abuse, which Alyssa Milano, in 2017, posted as a hashtag, which resulted in the avalanche of revelations about film/TV industry sexual abuse.
After leaving the bookstore and the movie studios, Doyle worked as a freelance writer, eventually launching New Texture, his book imprint and record label. He also worked as film columnist for “Asian Cult Cinema,” and co-wrote a screenplay that was produced, and was ultimately released by Lionsgate in 2013, “Devil May Call.” And the pandemic hasn’t stopped his work with New Texture, either. A publishing imprint and record label he organized in 2007 as an arts collective, New Texture held readings, pooling resources and audiences. Around 2009 they began publishing books, and expanding events around Los Angeles. These days it’s “more of a curated imprint” than a collective, Doyle explains, referring to himself as the ringmaster. “Collectives are great in theory, but…when it comes time to get the work done, it’s usually one or two people doing most of the heavy lifting.” New Texture is “people whose work I love, and people who I really enjoy working with.” It’s informal and collaborative, and he’s the point of contact. It’s big picture punk rock, I observe. New Texture artists collect the majority of profits their work generates, and retain the rights to their work.
He prefers print-on-demand services and generally avoids limited editions because Doyle wants to keep New Texture’s books in print and accessible. “My interest is not in the business of publishing. I’m an artist, and that’s where I want my time and energy to be focused.”
New Texture’s enjoyed particular success with “The Men’s Adventure Library” series, a collaboration between Doyle and collector/historian Robert Deis, collecting pulp fiction and illustration art from the 1950s-1970s, specifically men’s adventure magazines geared toward working-class blue-collar American men. Although there is some content that’s “impossible to defend,” there are other things, too. “You read between the lines, and it’s this fascinating parallel history of our popular culture.” Directed as they were towards veterans of WWII who’d seen combat and travelled worldwide, the emphasis was “on survival, and what’s left of the survivor, and how he remains haunted by the experience.” There’s another level to their stories about weasels ripping flesh or attacks of flying squirrels, Doyle believes. Plus, those magazines initiated approaches to storytelling that popular culture has since absorbed (biker, war, and prison narratives). The series shares common ground with other New Texture releases of “secret histories and sideways autobiography.”
His family remains close-knit, and he recently overheard his mom observe that none of her kids are motivated by money. And it’s true, Doyle told me, remembering that when he was a kid the big treat when their dad got paid was to go to the bookstore where they could each choose one item. There wasn’t anything better than that, he says, saying he feels similarly now. Sure, a bunch of money would be great, but “that’s not the ambition of New Texture, that’s not my ambition for the stuff I create myself.”
“I’m not doing glamour photography. I’m photographing stuff that most people try to avoid seeing in their everyday lives. But there is beauty there, too.”
“And the red death held sway over the dollar store” runs at Gallery 30 South (30 S Wilson Ave. Pasadena, CA 91106) through March 26, 2021. The show is open M-F, 12-6PM, or by appointment. Catch it while you can! More information about the solo show and Wyatt Doyle can be found here. Info about New Texture is also available online. You can also call (323)547-3227 or email the gallery.