Rochelle and Sandy, Nick Taggart

When the British-born artist Nick Taggart came to Los Angeles in 1977, he planned to stay for three months. Four-plus decades later, he is still here, living on the same Glassell Park street he was told about at a Stranglers show in London. Then twenty-two, Taggart, who studied illustration at Cambridge School of Art, found LA’s legendary light, eclectic architecture, and frontier landscape irresistible—and the antithesis of gray, recession-bound London. He quickly connected with the vibrant underground art and music scenes centered in downtown LA and Hollywood, at clubs like Al’s Bar and the Masque, which gave rise to iconic punk and new wave bands like X, The Go-Go’s, Devo, and Missing Persons, as well as lesser-known groups like Party Boys and Fender Buddies, who became his friends.

All the while, Taggart sketched his new city in his notebook, depicting the color-soaked mystique of the Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood’s Stardust Motel, a corner of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, and the dynamic characters in his social and creative orbit. But it wasn’t until he switched from colored pencils to acrylic paints that Taggart finally found a way to capture the city’s light. “Once I started using acrylics I felt like I could get that intensity within the shadows,” Taggart says today. “Even in the shadows there’s a blue glow; even the dark has light.”

In 1980, Taggart painted a series of portraits of friends in their native environments. They included the stylist and musician Gillian McLeod, pictured in her Spring Street loft with her lavender Gibson guitar; the photographer Jules Bates, who is shown leaning against his restored Nash Metropolitan, defiantly holding up his left hand to reveal two missing fingertips he’d lost in an explosion; and punk fans Sandy and Rochelle, whose gumball-palette fashions coordinate with the graffiti’d wall of a venue in Little Tokyo.