'Inherent Vice' Inspires Art at the Ace Hotel

Lindsey Best
Travis Millard

Psychedelic surf noir inspires '60s-era artwork in galleries in Los Angeles, New York and London

It was a time of peace, love and war. It had Sinatra and the Stones battling it out on the charts, mainstream culture versus counter culture and hot war versus Cold War. The '60s is probably the most scrutinized decade of the last century, the haze of which is faithfully captured in the artwork of people like Peter Max and Andy Warhol and on the big screen in Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie, Inherent Vice. To honor the era as well as the film, the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles and New York are concurrently showing art inspired by the psychedelic surf noir through Jan. 11, with an additional show at the Ace Hotel London Jan. 19-25.

The Los Angeles show includes twin sculptors the Haas brothers, cartoon-like canvases of Steven Harrington, Lili Lakich's mesmerizing neon sculptures, Alia Penner's psychedelic stars and stripes and a Day-Glo print by Dustin Stanton.

"Minimalism and conceptual art happenings were all going on amid pop art and abstract expressionism," says '60s-era artist John Van Hamersveld, known for The Endless Summer poster as wells as those for icons like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Jefferson Airplane. "There was Andy Warhol among all this. What he brought is he was able to show you there are two sides to the arts. One was more academic, and the other was commercial art. Pop art or popular culture embodied everything around us at the time. And so we were able to see in that, as a generation, an alternative to the military complex, the life that our parents lived in."

Read more 'Inherent Vice': Review

Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon and set in Venice and Santa Monica, Inherent Vice follows stoner sleuth Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) through the L.A. underworld in search of his missing ex and her lover. The deeper he gets into the case, the hazier things become until reality and fiction are impossible to decipher.

"Drugs or not, I think they still hold their own," artist Travis Millard tells THR about the psychedelic artwork of the time. "Those guys were doing something sort of timeless, just the colors and how vibrant things are. You can look at that anytime in history and it will be relevant, something that speaks to you on a visceral level."

As a boy in the '70s, Millard used to plow through issues of Mad magazine, emulating the style of cartoonists Mort Drucker and Al Jaffee, as well as Robert Crumb's work in Zap Comix. Their influence is pronounced in the nine pieces he has in the show, including a series of comic frames featuring characters from the movie.

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"When it came to creating works for this, I had a couple of conversations with Paul about it and was trying to bridge some connection with the characters. Just sort of like pull from some very loose conversations we had about things that may have occurred in the book that are in between the lines in the dream state."

Surrealists like Magritte, Duchamp, Dali and Man Ray all enjoyed resurgences during the late '60s and '70s, but it has less to do with psychedelic drugs than you might think.

"There's always going to be the dream," explains Van Hamersveld, who taught at Cal Arts for seven years. "The thing about art school — it's always abstract and makes itself different from the normal lives of regular people. So what's surreal to them? It's another world. The greatest difference in our time is going from rendering objects to ideas as objects. The idea is more important than the rendering, and everybody can manufacture it," he offers, unwittingly circling back to Warhol.

"Yeah, pop culture's pretty cyclical," concludes Millard.