You have to hand it to the Art Directors Guild – they certainly know how to make innate use of their assets as far as promoting their members’ work to both Hollywood and the larger communities, whether at Comic-con, or back up here in L.A.
The latest such event was an opening at Gallery 800 – that space in North Hollywood’s Lankershim Arts Center named not for the address, but of course the ADG’s “local” number.
The occasion – in this ongoing celebration of ADG’s 75th year – was an exhibit of the personal art of two storied production designers, Robert F. Boyle and Boris Leven, who were lifelong pals starting with their meeting at USC, where they studied architecture.
The artwork was loaned by Boyle’s daughter, Emily, (who is in possession of Leven’s work too), and includes watercolors they made knocking around Southern California, in the days before they landed, initially, at Paramount together, including evocative renderings of Wilshire Boulevard and a pre-Dodgers Chavez Ravine, by Boyle, and a view of Grauman’s Chinese Theater by Leven.
Boyle also grew up, in part, on a family ranch in Hanford, in the Central Valley, and there are some equally evocative renderings of scenes from a pre I-5 San Joaquin valley, with agrarian still-lifes and rust-toned atmospheres.
Boyle called many of these outings “weekend sketching days,” but those weekends grew into a several-month stretch when Boyle became frustrated at having not been promoted to art director after five years on the Paramount lot, and headed to Mexico with the notion of becoming a serious painter.
He wound up spending Sundays painting and drawing at a salon held by Diego Rivera and wife Frida Kahlo, and paintings from what he termed his “Mexico series” are on display as well.
But that period ended, as his funds were running out, with work that took him to the Universal lot, and eventually collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock, including Shadow of a Doubt, and later North by Northwest and The Birds. He also worked on In Cold Blood, The Shootist, and numerous other films, as well as serving on the Academy’s Board of Governors.
Leven – who also had work displayed at LACMA and MOMA – would go on to work on films like Giant, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and New York, New York, along with a slew of Oscar nominations.
Leven passed away nearly 20 years ago, and Boyle died just shy of his 101st birthday, last summer. The legacy of both men lives on in their film work, of course, but the exhibit serves to remind gallery-goers of the “art” that goes into “Art Directors Guild.”
It especially serves as a reminder of the skill-sets brought to bear in the pre-digital age – drafting, painting, model building, etc. When you enter the gallery, there’s a recreation of what a “typical” art directors’ office might have been like on the Paramount lot, circa the ’30s and ’40s. There is lots of wood, there are lots of blueprints, and there are no computers.
There were some more hands-on touches in the rear patio on opening day, however, as Jeff Brown, from Universal’s newly restored greens shop was prevailed upon to provide some bucolic shrubbery for the back patio area, augmented by rolling faux-stone panels brought in by Doug Miller from Universal’s staff shop.
It provided an instant cozy feeling to the patio area, (too bad it was flying out after the opening), but it precisely fit the kind of work that Boyle and Leven did during their lives, conjuring moods and emotions from building materials, natural elements, etc.
Of course, as the exhibit underscores, it’s good they found time to do their own work too, conjuring pieces from their observations of the world around them.
The world of Boyle and Leven’s own artwork will be on display through Sept. 8 at Gallery 800, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.