contemporary art


Strolling through the massive Art Los Angeles Contemporary show earlier this year, we spotted (and Instagrammed) one of Meg Cranston's incredible dog portraits and we immediately knew we had to feature her in SHAPERS. Currently the chair of the Fine Arts Department at Otis College of Art and Design, her sculpture, paintings, and video/performance work have earned her international accolades and she's exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, The Getty Museum of Art, The Hammer Museum, Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, The Carnegie Museum, K21 Museum, Dusseldorf, and the ICA, London, to name just a few.

Also, she has a super cute pooch named Jenkins and began a shelter dog photography project back in the mid-2000s, which ultimately helped to increase the number of dog adoptions, and we are always and forever 100% fans of that kind of altruism and creativity! 

Many,  many thanks to Meg for so intelligently and thoughtfully tackling this SHAPERS q+a! Enjoy!  

Can you tell us about your project photographing shelter dogs back in 2008? What was the experience like, what inspired the project, what was the endgame artistically or otherwise and how did it affect you/your work?

I was looking to get a dog and spending some time on the shelter websites. I decided to try to photograph all the dogs in LA shelters over a one month period. I tried to photograph them myself but quickly realized it isn't that easy to photograph a dog. So I partnered with the various shelters to get their photographs. That was a bit tricky because it involved working with the Chief of animal control. He was suspicious at first because he had to make sure I wasn't creating an expose on the shelters but then was happy to help. The most interesting thing was the quality of the photographs from different shelters varied a lot. At one shelter, the worker taking the photographs was careful to "art direct" the images. He posed the dogs in green settings even with some fake flowers arranged. He had the dogs standing in action poses so they looked lively and happy.

Compared to other shelters ,were the dogs were photographed in cages or on leashes, those animals looked highly adoptable. That shelter in fact did have higher rates of adoptions.

Because people primarily look at shelter dogs on websites, being photogenic is a life or death issue. 

The paintings I did of the shelter dogs takes that a bit further. Historically there are many dogs in paintings though typically they are high status dogs - hunting dogs or pets of wealthy people. The paintings of George Stubbs would be an example. I decided to do rather monumental portraits of ordinary dogs - shelter dogs who would not typically be painted.

Meg Cranston, "Corgi," 2014. 

Meg Cranston, "Corgi," 2014. 

Meg + Jenkins. 

Meg + Jenkins. 

What's your favorite thing about living in California?
I like the attitude of people in California. Theyhave a relaxed confidence that's easy to be around. The artists in Los Angeles aren't freighted with a lot of rules. They do whatever they want. Europeans especially admire that. 


How does teaching art influence your own artwork?
Besides paying the bills? I love teaching because in my courses, I have to write lectures about new topics all the time. If I didn't teach I doubt I would read as much or stay as current. Also there is a part of me that's a performer. Giving lectures is a kind of performance. It's fun. Of course the students are all fantastic. I have said many times, I have never had a bad student.

Art students are the best and most interesting students one can teach.

Meg Cranston, "Poodle Mix," Installation view, Michael Janssen, Berlin, 2014

Meg Cranston, "Poodle Mix," Installation view, Michael Janssen, Berlin, 2014

Which decade resonates most poignantly with you - 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s? I admire art of the 1960's for its clarity and optimism, art of the 1970's for its intellectual rigor, art of the 1980's for its focus on recasting artistic values as political. 

Meg Cranston's "California" and "Fireplace 12" at the Hammer Museum for  Made in L.A. , 2012.

Meg Cranston's "California" and "Fireplace 12" at the Hammer Museum for Made in L.A., 2012.

The scariest thing you've ever done?
I do stand up comedy. That's pretty scary especially for the audience.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I am a night owl who has to get up at 6am. It's a dilemma.

Name three of your favorite sculptors/3-dimensional artists and use a single word to describe each.

Alberto Giacometti  -  armature
Brancusi  -   base
Franz West  -  scale

What books are currently on your bedside table?
Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School


*Lily Spindle’s SHAPERS profiles the people whom we consider to be remarkable movers and shakers, doers and dreamers, trailblazers and big thinkers, the people who are doing things a little bit differently and unconventionally, with immense heart, passion, and authenticity in what they do. Artists, designers, writers, philanthropists, iconoclasts, artisans, heroines, voyagers, and all kinds of extraordinary extraordinaires will be interviewed in our SHAPERS series.

The Art of Collecting and the Collecting of Art

Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.”   -Walter Benjamin

Here at Lily Spindle we’ve been thinking about collecting lately. Let me begin by saying that we LOVE collecting, if that’s not already obvious. You only have to look around our respective abodes to find carefully curated collections, from colorful midcentury pitchers to awesomely awkward vintage paintings to the sculptural ceramics of Nancy Wright.  And it’s our belief that if ONE of something is wonderful, then TEN variations are even more amazing! Just witness the eleven rescue dogs and cats that Rebecca and I have between us (but hoarding is whole other blog post!)  So when does this urge to amass start?  Is it there from the very beginning like some dormant genetic code waiting to be awakened?  Clearly we all do it.  Who hasn’t gathered pretty shells on the beach or an assortment of the fanciest marbles, or maybe stamps or coins? Let's face it, collecting is just plain fun or the “American Pickers” TV show wouldn’t be on Season 16! 

Collecting does satisfy some basic human needs and has tangible benefits too: appreciation of beauty or eccentricity, the quest for esoteric knowledge,  pride of ownership and relaxation.  Collecting may be inspired by nostalgia (one of my triggers), competitiveness (fun for some), investment or the thrill of the find.

No matter the reason for doing it, a well-honed collection can be the pièce de résistance in any room.  Whether it’s a row of vintage portraits down a long hallway, a grouping of Fat Lava Vases on a credenza or an assemblage of vintage surfboards, we at Lily Spindle believe that a good collection is transcendent and meaningful.  It's a reflection of the collector's passions and conveys personality, connoisseurship, warmth and charm.   And collecting isn't just the privilege reserved for the select few.  The value is in the joy it brings to the collector.

So why not get started on a collection of your own? Trust me - you're going to find it hard to control the ensuing obsession.  But here are some Lily Spindle tips to guide you.




Do you have a favorite genre? Landscapes, seascapes, portraits? Pick a single subject or artistic style and explore the heck out of it.  You won’t believe how many different ways artists see the same thing!  P.S. A salon-style hanging of kindred paintings is an excellent way to make a collection of small pieces work for you in a BIG way.

A   Low Brow Art Collection of Paint-by-numbers Dog paintings    

A Low Brow Art Collection of Paint-by-numbers Dog paintings



Collect objects that have the same function but take many different forms.  Sometimes the differences are subtle but the possibilities are endless!

                        Teapots- short and stout, English, Asian, new and old.

                        Teapots- short and stout, English, Asian, new and old.

                 Gorgeous toile trays become wall art.

                 Gorgeous toile trays become wall art.


There's tremendous beauty to be found in pedestrian objects that have outlived their usefulness.  Imagine new ways to display and highlight the loveliness of ordinary things.

                                 Glass fishing floats become a hanging garden .

                                 Glass fishing floats become a hanging garden.

                      An ascending installation of vintage wood shoe forms.

                      An ascending installation of vintage wood shoe forms.


Are you curious about the art of our times but you need help understanding it? Talk to art professionals- gallerists and art consultants can provide guidance including us at Lily Spindle with over 20 years experience in the contemporary art world.  Museums have collector membership groups that explore the local artist community.  Collecting contemporary art is very rewarding and the acquisitions can be a strong complement to modern décor. 

                     Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst feature prominently                                           in this collection of heavy hitters.

                     Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst feature prominently
                                       in this collection of heavy hitters.


Name: Scot + Kerry Armstrong
Location: Los Feliz, California
Size: 2300-square-feet, 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 1 1/2 bath
Years lived in: 9

Located at the foot of Los Angeles'  iconic Griffith Park in sun-dappled and lovely Los Feliz is the beautiful one-story home of the Armstrong crew. An incredibly busy house just by the nature of its inhabitants -- husband, Scot, is a screenwriter/director known for, most recently, as the creator, writer, and director of the Showtime series "DICE" featuring Andrew Dice Clay, as well as  his work on "Road Trip," "The Hangover:Part II", and "Old School," while Kerry is the director of HOME DOG LA, an animal rescue intervention program, and they're parents to 9-year-old fashionista, Lake, and 5-year-old Charlie. They've got a bevy of mid-sized, fabulous rescue dogs and a corn snake, to boot. Hello, literal "full house"!

When we first walked into their home, we immediately sensed the innate energy within its walls - ebullient, mirthful, and wonderfully contagious. Most elements of the house didn't convey that innate liveliness and happiness, however. 


We sought to make a totally livable, 100% lovable space for this family of four and all their darling animals wherein beauty, richness, color, and light was infused into the space without becoming "precious" about anything. We felt like nothing newly introduced by us could be delicate and fragile -  in terms of textiles, accessories, and furniture, we brought in pieces that were hardy but spectacular: indigo cotton pillows and poufs, modern wool rugs, washable cotton coverlets, a variety of vintage lamps in sunny yellow and burnt sienna, a custom credenza made locally in L.A.; new paint colors for the master bedroom, den, and daughter's bedroom are bold and bright (deep azure, radiant yellow, and fuchsia, respectively) and we hung large-scale, abstract contemporary artwork from Los Angeles artists' whose work we adore, and these balanced perfectly the couple's rather substantial art collection, comprised predominantly of photography and representational paintings. 

For us, the challenge was in finding that fine, ineffable balance between the utilitarian and "sturdy" to ensure that the awesome Armstrong crew gleefully and comfortably lives with the home's changes, while also making the space come to life and reflect the joyful nature of its creative and captivating people. I think (and hope!)  we succeeded! Some Before and After photos are shown below, as well as a few individual room shots. 

This bedroom was a combination of pale blues and dapple-greys. Totally fine, for all intents and purposes, but a bit ho-hum. We proposed something more sumptuous and deeper, a combination of vintage and new. And they were ready to do it! Wall color is Benjamin Moore's Adriatic Sea; abstract painting by Los Angeles artist David Lloyd, bedding is Pine Cone HIll and Pendleton, ceramic lamps are vintage, bed and bedside tables are clients' own. 

Welcome to the bedroom of a rock and roll 9-year-old. Making the transition from her childhood wallpaper and furniture wasn't without its flashes of fear, but giving her the ability to choose the paint, bedding patterns, and art from our specific proposals made this 9-year-old a part of the transformation. And it's one helluva bedroom now!  A Warhol print hangs on Benjamin Moore's Hot Lips, vintage frosted glass desk lamp, anodized aluminum trunk for costume + accessory storage, custom-made pillows and zebra print coverlet, client's own bed, desk, and desk chair. 

Vintage indigos paired with sunshine yellow make this den glow. Painting by LA artist Ned Evans. Wall color is Benjamin Moore Dalila. Client's own coffee table, sectional sofa, and floor lamp. 

Vintage indigos paired with sunshine yellow make this den glow. Painting by LA artist Ned Evans. Wall color is Benjamin Moore Dalila. Client's own coffee table, sectional sofa, and floor lamp. 

A salon-style assemblage of their many animalium paintings makes the den of these dog lovers even sweeter. 

A salon-style assemblage of their many animalium paintings makes the den of these dog lovers even sweeter. 

A quiet space in the front alcove, which once served as the kids' art storage space. Credenza custom-made in Los Angeles, tall bright yellow table lamp and shade are vintage, pottery by Venice ceramicist Nancy Wright, black and white photograph is client's own. 

*(Total Lily Spindle re-design non-sequitur here, but if you haven't checked out DICE, do it as soon as possible. It is damn funny + clever.)

xx - Rebecca + Deb 



Independence Day - Jasper Johns and Lost Pets

Jasper Johns, FLAG (1983). Encaustic on silk flag on canvas.

Jasper Johns, FLAG (1983). Encaustic on silk flag on canvas.

One night in 1954, Jasper Johns slept and while sleeping dreamed of the American flag and, according to legend, immediately set about to create his own version of this “pre-formed, conventional, de-personalized, factual, exterior element(s)" (Johns, quoted in 1965). Three decades later, he painted this particular Flag (1983), which sold at Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in 2014 for $36 million. Of this iconic imagery, Johns has said, ". . . the painting of a flag is always about a flag, but it is no more about a flag than it is about a brush-stroke or about a color or about the physicality of the paint, I think.”

And on another Independence Day note, for all y'all animal lovers, this weekend of exploding fireworks and raucous revelry is extremely stressful for our pets! Animal control officers across the U.S. see a 30-60% increase of lost pets between July 4th and July 6th. And the 5th? That day is one of the busiest days of the year for our animal shelters, nationwide. And a crowded animal shelter means higher rates of euthanasia for already crowded shelters as they try to make room for the displaced animals found on the streets.. So, what can you do to help? Here are some top tips:

1 - Designate a safe place in your home for scared pups and cats to hang out while "bombs bursting in air." I feel like the bathroom tends to be a safe room for my pup, Lucie.
2 - Play loud music or watch a loud movie to overpower the sound of the fireworks.
3 - Distraction methods with treats (bully sticks, et cetera).
4 - Always make sure your animals are wearing collars with relevant name, address, phone number.
5 - Keep your animals indoors and make sure all windows and doors are closed and secure. Fear = darting and darting = lost pets.
6 - You could try a holistic/homeopathic anti-anxiety treatment, such as dog-calming pheromones or a Thundershirt. There are also myriad treats and chews with passionflower extract, valerian, L-theanine, lavender, or chamomile that can be super effective for stressful situations like fireworks (or traveling, going to the vets, etc).  Do your research first, though, and never give your animals anything without consulting a vet or animal healthcare expert.

Happy red, white, and blue! In the words of Jasper, "Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it."


MANA at the Villa Di Donato

On the night of May 28th, “The Artists of the Film MANA” took over a 17th century villa in Naples, otherwise known as the Villa Di Donato. This MANA exhibition, a collaborative effort between ART1307 (AKA Cynthia and Renato Penna) and Lancaster Museum of Art and History (AKA Andi Campognone), with the ingenuity and aid of Naples’ Chiara Reale and Rome-based curator Roberta Serpolli, featured the works of the following MANA film artists: Craig Skibs Barker, Casper Brindle, Ben Brough, Alex Couwenberg, Ned Evans, Steve Fuchs, Eric Johnson, David Lloyd, and Ken Pagliaro -- the last seven listed were in attendance at the villa’s opening reception and were hit up for multiple on-the-spot interviews with Italian reporters and had individual tete-a-tetes with the Consulate of U.S. Consul of Politics and Economic Affairs.

The Lily Spindle ladies (and our dashing husbands) got a private tour of the spectacular villa by its owner, a man of few words, in part because his prowess in communicating in English is pretty comparable to ours in speaking Italian. He proudly informed us that 40 guests had enjoyed Christmas dinner there last year and I immediately imagined how glorious this place would look adorned with holiday trimmings, aglow with strings of twinkling lights and candles flickering on a massive dining table. It’s an absolutely gorgeous space. And an ingenious, fun, and unusual environment in which to see bright, contemporary, California-forged art made by the MANA men.

Our apologies for the excessive photos of the opening reception but there were too many shots to choose from! Photo credit goes to Ken Pagliaro, Eric Johnson, Ben Brough, Andi Campognone, and more than a few snaps by Lily Spindle.

*Here’s one of several stories in the Naples papers covering the MANA night in Naples . . .