French artist to spend two months ‘excavating’ L.A. River for ‘Eat the River’ project

Artist Frédérick Gautier in his studio by the L.A. River.
Artist Frédérick Gautier in his studio by the L.A. River.
(Deborah Vankin / Los Angeles Times)

Frédérick Gautier is hungry — for art-making, for urban exploration and, most of all, for the landscape of L.A. The French experimental artist has started a two-month examination of the L.A. River from his studio on the bike path in Frogtown — a project that he describes as an “intervention” into the river’s history and terrain.

Throughout August and most of September, Gautier, who arrived from Paris two weeks ago, will scour the 51-mile river bed on foot and by bike, searching for discarded objects as well as “traces, cracks, holes and imprints” in the concrete. The “excavation” will produce a site-specific body of work, “Eat the River,” consisting of 100 clay utilitarian objects, such as plates, vases and coffee pots, that reflect what the artist found.

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“I like landscapes, and this is a huge landscape in L.A.,” Gautier says of why he was drawn to the L.A. River. “I like graphic things and the fact that it’s very straight. And I like, very much, concrete — it’s an amazing thing to create objects and landscapes [from]. Also, the L.A. River, it’s coursing the entire landscape of L.A., it’s crossing all the social [boundaries], all the people living here. And water is essential in life.”

The works will be exhibited at the downtown L.A. gallery-boutique Please Do Not Enter, which organized the project. Last year, it staged artist Vincent Lamouroux’s “Projection,” bathing Hollywood’s Sunset Pacific Motel in a snowy white lime wash.

Gautier said that after working in France’s movie industry for 20 years, he attended École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage, the landscape design school in Versailles and became a landscape designer. “Eat the River” will be less of an architectural spectacle and more environmentally focused.

“The river is the place where the city was born,” says Gautier. “So we need to start to take care of the river, to save the water. To do that is to take care of L.A.”

Movie scenes shot around the L.A. River informed his affection for the place, he says, citing “Drive,” “Terminator” and “Grease” as examples. “There’s not just one L.A. River, but so many little parts, and they are all so different. It’s like the backstage of the city.”


For “Eat the River,” Gautier wanders the river in early mornings and at night, taking silicon rubbings of textures in the river bed, then creating molds he fills with a mix of clay and cement. His glazes, which he prepared in France, are a glossy palette of mossy and clear greens, as well as sand and fuel hues. Found objects — most recently, a DVD and a broken electronic key — inform the works as well.

“They’re archeological elements I find on the floor,” he says. “They talk about the people of the city, of man, of living here. I found so many things coming from cars. Cars are talking about highways. The river is talking about L.A.”


“Eat the River”

Where: Please Do Not Enter, 549 S. Olive St., L.A.

When: Sept. 21-Oct. 22.

Info: (213) 263-0037;

Follow me on Twitter: @DebVankin



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