Semi-Permanent Transit Lounge

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Production designer Annie Sperling will be presenting this week at this year’s biggest commercial art gig Semi-Permanent. Sperling has one of the coolest jobs in the world, designing sets for commercials, music videos and feature films. She’s been outrageous fashion photographer David LaChapelle’s primary designer since 2005 creating numerous stunning sets and props for his nuevo- renaissance fantasies. Sperling also produces photography, paintings and murals and has designed and organized over twenty-one mural projects as part of community beautification programs around Los Angeles. Many of these projects have resulted in the art training of ‘at risk’ local youth, some of whom had histories of gang and graffiti involvement.

Jetlagged, and in, err, semi-permanent transit, en-route to a photo shoot for Janelle, in NYC, Sperling finds a few precious seconds to fire off a few emails, including one to Groove Guide.

Groove Guide: What does Design mean to you? When taking on a project ,what is at the front of the cortex for you? Are you in the head of the client, the customer or viewer or your own brain?
Annie Sperling: “To me the word means ‘the look’, literally the first visceral look. I believe in art and your environment. I believe humans respond to beauty and aesthetics. My job is to make something visually appealing. It’s a bit of a ‘juggle’. Sometimes bringing in the client or agency needs without directly telling the director (what I’m thinking in my head) is a strange dance. Ultimately, I try to make something bitchin’- I must stand in front of it for upwards of 12 hours minimally in front of myself, my crew and the other departments.”

Groove Guide: What will you be telling the amassed hordes at Semi Permanent? What’s the message you have for them? “I’m seriously humbled they invited me… I’m planning on speaking about my process and also the path I took to get to my career. I think it may be helpful to would-be artists to know I did not have exactly a plan! But the road became the plan!

“I started, initially, as a scenic painter- which has no relation to current my job. However, this background has proved invaluable for my knowledge of process. It affords me budgeting skills and good communication to get the results I want for the look of my sets. My background is in photography and fine art- mostly painting. I was influenced majorly by music, specifically rock n roll. Movies, too and travel is the pearl in my knowledge pool of styles.

“Meeting inspiring people like David LaChapelle was a major turning point in my career- one that happened quite unexpectedly. It was a strange meeting, in a fantasy remodel in the Hollywood Hills. He was using my remodel as a location. That was our first meeting.”

Groove Guide: Your fashion work is very ultra-surreal, ultra-Glam, glossy, ironic.
Annie Sperling: “I do have lots of cynicism for the world- but it is strangely coupled with a true love for Art. I think when I am doing my job my punk rock upbringing seeps through- I cannot take a commercial that seriously. We’re selling products, no matter how you elevate it. (My editorial work) has more freedom and irony- more realism and surrealism- this is where I can really play and have fun.”

“Irony is one word (to describe my work). There is a love of things that make our world work- the electric cords and vents the mundane make the surreal even more trippy. All these things have a strange resonance to the eye and I think that is what you are seeing.”

Groove Guide: Tell me about your public murals project. I read that you were seeking damages from Heineken, who desecrated one of your murals “Our Lady Of Iguanas” (an iconic image in downtown LA).

Annie Sperling: “My, you’ve done your research! The mural in question is an old one I made with these kids- a couple of whom dropped out of gangs as a result of this (mural making) program. Many, as adults, still live in the neighbourhood. I’m seeking ($250K in) damages because I was p***ed that a big corporation covered the wall- which is 2 stories high with an advert. The law is they must notify the artist – if you destroy or use someone’s art there are consequences. I am trying to get funds to refurbish the wall and rework the mural using some of the original painters. It sounds greedy but it is the principal for me.”

Groove Guide: Now, you’re not just a commercial artist with a punk aesthetic. Turns out you also ‘collaborate’ with a local club – Lucha Va Voom – Burlesque dancing, Mexican Wrestling and Standup comedy. How did you get to be mixed up in this? Is it true that you’ve wrestled yourself?

Annie Sperling: “I did wrestle with a burlesque star – Kitten de Ville – against the Luchadores LOS CHIVOS DE ORO- the goats of gold! Lucha VaVoom is a fantastic show that plays to a 1000 capacity crowd in an old Deco theatre in downtown LA. Kitten and I danced and wrestled, had we some serious moves! I love Mexican culture and was thrilled to learn some tricks- it’s friggin’ hard! My body was a rock when I wrestled! I’ve been a burlesque dancer for many years and produced a really crazy show with Kitten called Rock n Roll Strip show. I don’t usually talk about both things designing and dancing – although LaChapelle LOVES to tell the agency I am a stripper!

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