Karen Halverson: Mulholland

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 22, 2021

Mulholland Drive: Is it a place? A myth? A state of mind? All of the above and more, depending on when you began looking at art and going to arthouse movies. The name alone conjures up still and moving images, populated by mythic events such as the film “Chinatown” (1974, dir. Roman Polanski); the film “Mulholland Drive” (2001, dir. David Lynch); the Tate/LoBianco murders; and the painting Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio (David Hockney, 1980).


It was the Hockney painting that captured photographer Karen Halvorson’s imagination when she saw it in 1988, after having sought out the Western landscape through the lenses of various view cameras she lugged around for more than a decade on trips from NYC. Hockney’s joyous portrayal of the sinuous route from high above the valleys lodged in her memory; a few years later she moved to LA and immediately got hooked on driving the 52-mile twisting two-lane.

Her visual engagement with every facet of the drive, paved, unpaved, rising from the Pacific Ocean at Malibu to the edge of Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign, is now a book coming out in September. With a Forward by LA writer David Kipen, who details the subtle and sneaky physicality of the road, the history of its making and some of the legendary characters who have inhabited its adjacencies, Mulholland materializes the mysteries of place that have occupied Halverson’s dedication to landscapes shaped by humans since she first took up photography.

The book is designed to lead the viewer, spread by panoramic spread, high above the City of Angels, with Halverson’s acute sense of the details lodged within the big picture. Each image imparts a knowingness that comes from her intense engagement with the place, its light, at all hours, in all seasons.


After elaborating on the “middle way between worldliness and wilderness” he calls the “Ghost Mulholland,” which dissolves into unpaved road, then well-walked trails towards its end, Kipen writes, “…it’s tempting to pull a 180 and double back all the way to the ocean—maybe even to keep going, to follow the 34th parallel all the way to Honshu. Certainly Mulholland’s reputation has girdled the world, while its voluptuous swerves form a little-noticed third helix in most every Angeleno’s DNA”

And with that in mind, I reached out to gallerist Paul Kopekin, who represented Halverson in LA during the time she was creating this body of work. He writes, “There aren’t a lot of things in Los Angeles for a tourist to see, although that doesn’t stop them from coming in droves. Of course there’s the beach, but there’s sand and water in a lot of places and many of them are better than what we have here. Mostly they come to see “Hollywood” and in doing so I imagine that most of them leave disappointed; apart from walking to and looking at the sign there is very little of LA to see, and what there is is packaged and marketed within an inch of its life. 


“But what never fails to impress, and what I advise anyone visiting LA to experience, is a long drive along Mulholland, preferably in a rented convertible one quiet evening after the traffic has died down and the air feels cool and fresh. At the right time of year you can even catch the scent of jasmine in the air. It’s this feeling that Karen Halverson captured when she shot the length of the mythic drive from the Hollywood sign to the Pacific Ocean. When she brought me the pictures in 2003 I had to admit I didn’t even know it extended that far (there are breaks) although now I often ride my motorcycle up there, dodging the tourist vans. 

“Karen had already been making panoramic pictures and looking for subjects that worked well with the exaggerated ratio. Mulholland was perfect. And when I first showed the work in 2003, it was as much a revelation to the many viewers who saw the show as it had been to me. Karen hunted for and found perfect locations as if for a movie shoot, and photographed them at the best time of day or night. She managed to make this iconic strip of road her own and in so doing took a rundown actor seeming past his prime and once again made him a star.”


Mulholland by Karen Halverson, with a Foreword by David Kipen, is available for pre-order from MW Editions here.

The Monterey Museum of Art in Monterey, California, will mount a solo exhibition, Karen Halverson: Trees, Chairs, and Power Lines from September, 16, 2021 until January 2, 2022. The exhibition will consist of selections from two bodies of her work made in California, large panoramic landscapes and “portraits” of California trees. Info