Sterling Wells

Born 1984 in New York
Lives and works in Los Angeles 

Sterling Wells’ watercolours, created in the tradition of plein air landscape painting, depict neglected waterways and interstitial urban spaces in his hometown of Los Angeles. 

Wells has had solo exhibitions at Night Gallery, Los Angeles; New Low, Los Angeles; LAMOA at Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles; Vernon Gardens, Vernon, CA; Metropolitan Structures, Baltimore, MD; and Lana’s, Brooklyn, NY. He has participated in group exhibitions at Real Pain, Los Angeles; EPOCH, Los Angeles; Night Gallery, Los Angeles; and American Medium, Brooklyn, NY. Wells received an MFA from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA, a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. 



La Brea Poppies with Styrofoam Plate II, 2020
watercolour on paper
65.5 x 45.5 cm 

La Brea Poppies and TJ’s Tent, 2020
watercolour on paper
66 x 45.5 cm 

Cowboy’s Estate, 2021
watercolour on paper
70 x 49.5 cm 

Elysian Hills Capri Sun, 2021
watercolour on paper
68.5 x 48.5 cm
Courtesy the artist

Los Angeles River Shopping Carts, 2021
watercolour on paper
70 x 49.5 cm
Courtesy the artist 

Sterling Wells series of watercolour paintings were completed outdoors and in situ by the artist, depicting interstitial spaces around Los Angeles, including freeway on-ramps and urban waterways. Unlike the Impressionist tradition of ‘plein air’ painting, where artworks were often completed in a matter of hours, Wells has a lengthy and deep relationship with the communities and contexts in which he works, allowing his paintings to be informed by chance and the changing nature of the locations over time.  

Wells watercolours share a tension between nature and culture, depicting an ongoing battle between humans and their environment, that has continued from colonisation to the present day. Native California poppies are seen pushing up through areas of urban infrastructure, also scattered with human belongings and detritus; in another painting, the iconic Los Angeles River, with concrete walls, is littered with shopping trolleys beneath the distant shadow of power lines. Many paintings portray temporary shelters and the belongings of unhoused residents of Los Angeles – a population tragically increasing in the wake of the pandemic – who look to the margins and fringes for a peaceful place to live.