Welcome to Halloween City

Sayre Gomez is a Los Angeles painter and sculptor known for his hyper-real portrayal of the aftermath of urbanization. Halloween City, his recent exhibition at gallery Francois Ghebaly in Los Angeles, features meticulously rendered airbrushed paintings and sculptures depicting vacant retail spaces, faded roadside signage and dilapidated buildings. Everything is at once familiar and spooky. Peeling back the glitz of Los Angeles, Gomez reminds us to stop staring at the sun and recognize the very real and very haunted landscape we live in.

Sculpture at Halloween City exhibition by Sayre Gomez Sculpture at Halloween City exhibition by Sayre Gomez

I connected with Sayre for an interview about his spectral vision of the city.

Sayre Gomez's painting of lightning bolts behind Jerry's Liquors

Lauren Steinberg: Where is Halloween City anyway?

Sayre Gomez: Halloween City is anywhere. For me, it’s LA because I live and work here. But it's just an analogy for living in this particular moment in time in which everyday life is inseparable from a multiplicity of representations, artifice, and pageantry. Initially, I found it interesting because of the seasonal retailer which sets up every Halloween in recently defunct Toys'R'Us locations. They just put their banner right on top of the old Toys’R’Us sign. I thought it was this great kind of living collage punctuating these two competing business models: the old brick and mortar model falling in the wake of the gig economy. So I made a painting based on a photo I took of the two signs. After thinking about it for a while, I realized it's also a great analogy for being alive in the world right now.

Sayre Gomez's painting of lightning bolts behind Jerry's Liquors

LS: References to impending doom and death abound in your work. The DieHard sign on a Sears facade in one of your paintings comes to mind. Lightning bolts and melancholy sunsets are recurring motifs. And I can’t help but see your sculptures as stand-ins for tombstones and crucifixes. What are you memorializing or perhaps exhuming in Halloween City?

SG: The whole show is about memorializing an era at the precipice of a new one. I think a lot about the visual manifestations of that collision. I made a 1/84th scale model of a building in downtown LA called the ‘Reef”. It illustrates what I’m talking about perfectly. You have a very typical industrial building built in the 1950s that has eclipsed its function, in a way. Traditionally (obviously) buildings are made to house any number of physical interactions, manufacturing, labor, etc. Here we see that function being transformed away from a constructed environment to house the flow of capital, to one which displays it. The building is reduced to a pedestal, and the display becomes a mask. The scale of the sculpture allows a viewer to see it for what it is. It is an uncanny illustration of colliding economies that resemble a scene from a futuristic, sci-fi movie; only it's not a movie, it's real.

Halloween City exhibition by Sayre Gomez Halloween City exhibition by Sayre Gomez

LS: Your work reminds me of riding around in the backseat of a car and gazing out the window as the city rolls by. What are your processes for selecting the vignettes you paint and the objects you sculpt?

SG: It’s pretty intuitive. Like most Angelenos, I drive a lot, so seeing the city through that lens has had a big impact on me. The subjects I choose often tend to be things hidden in plain sight. Again, finding things that illustrate something that I find relevant to this particular moment in time. It happens to be that the things I find important about this moment in time are things like climate change, migration, deregulated capitalism ad nauseam, and the resulting fallout: the homeless crisis, the collapse of the middle class, etc. The fallout is very palpable. You can see it unraveling all around.

Sayre Gomez in front of one of his paintings Sayre Gomez airbrushing a painting

LS: These are dark times and there’s a darkness to your work. Is there a relationship between the vacancy of the places you depict and the pandemic?

SG: There are references to the pandemic; however, they are mostly circumstantial. Some paintings feature window and door signage that contains covid protocols and the like. The pandemic has acted as an accelerant for many issues that interest me. They were here before but covid just made them much more pronounced.

LS: I’ve got to ask– what are your all time favorite horror flicks?

SG: I don’t know. I like “The Road '' but it's too hard to watch twice, so I’ve only seen it once. I like Octavia Butler, not sure if there have been any movies based on her writings, but I think she is very interesting.