A Modernist Masterpiece in the Hollywood Hills Has Become a Meta Museum
Perched on a crest overlooking the intersection of Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, the Fitzpatrick-Leland House imitates the hilltop, cascading down three stories and spreading out where it meets the earth. It was a large lot for architect Rudolph Schindler, who designed the house in 1936 as a spec for real estate developer Clifton Fitzpatrick. The L-shaped structure incorporates interlocking volumes radiating from its core and blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, just some of the traits associated with Schindler’s work.
In one of artist Paul Davies’ paintings, the house is set against a mountain backdrop. It’s Schindler’s building, but the background is wrong. “I was looking at the idea of applying it to different landscapes. So if you could build it here, you could build it in these other places,” says Davies, whose artwork is on exhibit at the house, by appointment only, through June 25. A stencil of the structure is a prominent motif in the acrylic canvases and bronze sculptures occupying the living room, kitchen, bedroom and basement. “The stencil is like a cookie cutter, like a machine, but can be manipulated to become unique.”
Davies associates the stencil with Schindler’s units, blocky precut furnishings made of wood that could be manipulated by homeowners to fit their needs. Like Schindler, Davies is an immigrant, arriving in Los Angeles a few years ago from Sydney, Australia. He has shown in galleries on three continents and is included in public and corporate collections such as Rothschild, Historic Houses Trust and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Midcentury modern homes like the Fitzpatrick-Leland, or Sydney’s Seidler House, are common fixtures in his work, and he hopes to eventually include Philip Johnson’s Glass House or even one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Los Angeles buildings.
Wright had a profound impact on both Davies and Schindler, who landed in the United States from Austria in 1914. Schindler found his way to Taliesin, where he studied under Wright and oversaw the construction of the Hollyhock House in Hollywood while Wright was in Tokyo working on the Imperial Hotel. It was around this time that Schindler built the iconic Kings Road House in West Hollywood and invited his old schoolmate, Richard Neutra to join him there.
The two men became highly influential modernists, but following a contentious split in 1927, it was decades before Schindler was awarded the same recognition as Neutra, despite masterpieces like the Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach, Catalina Island’s Wolfe House and the Kings Road House, whose floor plan and use of cement slab made it one of the most forward-looking structures of its era.
Over time, numerous owners and various modifications made Schindler’s original plan for the Fitzpatrick House unrecognizable. After Russ Leland acquired it in 1990, he hired architect Jeff Fink to restore it to its original form. In 2008, Leland donated the house to the MAK Center, which oversees three of Schindler’s Los Angeles structures, including the Kings Road House and the Mackey Apartment building. (MAK Center and This X That are co-presenting the exhibit of Davies' paintings.)
Like Schindler and Neutra, Davies attended Taliesin (West in Arizona), Wright’s school of architecture. The artist’s series of 24 gum bichromate photograms depict one of Wright’s Prairie-style structures with a watery wash that suggests paintings like Monet’s series of Rouen Cathedral, capturing various hours and attitudes.
“It’s a split between photography and painting, like architecture and landscape,” says Davies, referencing Niepce’s View From the Window at Le Gras from 1826, the world’s oldest photograph, which marries the artist to his studio. “I’m trying to navigate where I am and likening the Australian landscape, which is very hot, to Arizona, my new home at the time, as a way of mapping where I am and using the photographic process to do it.”
“Everything Loose Will Land in L.A. — Double Golden Gully” is a series of three paintings, one of which employs the stencil of Schindler’s house against a woodland background taken from a photo of Golden Gully, an area that played a part in Australia’s gold rush, which was triggered by the California Gold Rush in 1848.
“At the time, eucalyptus trees were being exported to California. Now you have this modern El Dorado with everybody coming to California for Silicon Valley or Hollywood,” Davies says of a series that places him simultaneously in the past and present, as well as here and in Australia. He pauses, surveying the disparate elements that went into making the piece. “These are all places that exist, but together they don’t exist as they are. There are two sides to every story.”
Paul Davies at the Fitzpatrick-Leland House is on view by appointment through Sun., June 25. On June 24, it opens to MAK Center members for a pool party and on June 25 Davies will be in conversation with Aaron Betsky, dean of Taliesin West at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and Priscilla Fraser, executive director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture