|CONTINUING AND RECOMMENDED, MAY, 2012|
Hugo Crosthwaite, "Tijuanerias #52," 2011, ink, wash, graphite and white out on Canson paper, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2".
The 100 plus drawings as well as site specific wall paintings that make up Hugo Crosthwaite's exhibition entitled "Tijuanerias" create a narrative that unfolds across the gallery walls. Through fragments these various border stories create an image of life in Tijuana. Each of the 8 x 5 inch black and white works on paper are graphically rendered in ink, wash, graphite and white out and are beautiful, albeit also chilling and sometimes quite violent images of the border city. Crosthwaite's skill as a draftsman as well as story teller is evident in these small works yet where the exhibition draws its power is in the mural that fills the gallery's back room. Here the images have been enlarged to human scale and the layering of representational plus cartoon imagery articulate the power of Crosthwaite's project, namely interpreting Tijuna's "Black Legend" with its contradictions between a quest for peace in a place of violence (Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Culver City).
Elad Lassry, "Los Angeles Blue and Nude," 2012 installation view at David Kordansky
Elad Lassry is an artist/photographer with a penchant for the mischievous. In this latest show he raises the conceptual quotient, while reducing humor to a more nuanced tone. In spite of his aggressive ambition to use photography as one cog in a larger conceptual framework, as in the past, his photos are the real draw; the conceptual framing is elaborate but ultimately feels unnecessary. The main gallery features two significant architectural framing devices: one is a partial wall topped by a series of colored wave curves (dubbed "Los Angeles Blue and Nude" for the two respective colors) that both separates and frames a series of silver gelatin prints. The other is an extremely long and narrow rectangle that frames a group of charcoal, holiday-themed still-life drawings. The photos feature the actor Anthony Perkins in two distinct phases: recent self-aware portraits holding milk cartons and a juice bottle; and several others from Perkins' youthful days, presumably either re-photographed or made from contacts of unpublished images. In the earlier photos, the young stud mugs next to a refrigerator with an ice cube tray, or examines a letter on the front steps outside his home. Perhaps it was something of a coup that the artist collaborated with the iconic actor at all, let alone that he had him serve as a subject for such manhandling. But in the context of his installation, by utilizing Perkins and his aura, Lassry engages in a deconstruction of numerous framing devices: time, access, intention of audience. Meanwhile the drawings, while competent for what they are, feel too forced in this environment. The sweet spot for Lassry's work still remains the visual charm of his photos, and gestures outside of that feel extraneous (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).
Influenced by the Japanese culture of cuteness, the artist known as Buff Monster borrows characteristics of the lovable, non-threatening and desirable, then mixes them with narratives that reference aspects of American popular culture. Think Hello Kitty meets Rock and Roll and you have a recipe for a successful line of collectable toys and highly sought after prints. The main proponent featured throughout the exhibit is a stylized cycloptic ice cream cone complete with arms and legs that is rendered with airbrush in a number of quirky and funny settings. The most memorable, entitled “The Coned Crusader Pierces a Demon,” clearly plays off the superhero Batman, who is known as the Caped Crusader. Instead of a dark and menacing hero this character is donned in the color pink, which apparently symbolizes his confidence. However this adorable character has just slain an equally cute demon that has been deflated as though it was a balloon. A bit of blood oozes out from the punctured wound, yet none of the grotesqueness is felt when it's packaged in this manner. A particularly interesting set of paintings by Buff Monster are displayed in the upstairs gallery. They reprise the infamous Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. A well known gross-out item that mocked the sincerity of the wildly popular Cabbage Patch Dolls – Buff Monster again uses this language to eradicate that which was intended to shock and turns it into something desirable (Corey Helford Gallery, Culver City).
G. James Daichendt
Since the 1980's Kenny Scharf has been decorating cars and walls, making paintings and sculpture in which cartoon-like characters swim, float, and frolic. He also created day-glow environments filling small rooms with painted objects, covering all the walls, floors and ceiling with discarded 'stuff' that comes to life when attacked by Scharf's creative hand. Scharf's images range from the well known Fred, Wilma, and Barney of the Flintstones to amoeba-like squiggles floating in a vibrantly painted background. The works are nostalgic for a less media saturated culture and a critique of our technological society. Nevertheless whether it is a car with exotic decorations, a room filled with throbbing music and glow-in-the-dark plastic toys or painted forms that flow perfectly together, Scharf's work always evokes a smile (Honor Fraser, Culver City).
Jason Salavon, the quintessential contemporary digital artist, takes specific frames from our incessant media landscape and boils them down into an oddly palatable digital art form. One series of inkjet prints, titled "One Week Skin," takes programming from an entire week on, respectively, CNN, ESPN, and HBO, and parses their condensed visual information into varying repetitive patterns; the process, and the prospect of the digital coding involved, lends the pieces an innate obsessiveness. They're worthy of our awe on that count alone. The artist's manufactured Albers-esque square pattern based on the HBO graphic is the most visually satisfying transformation. That said, one may ultimately conclude that Salavon's work is anti-aesthetic, or that visual allure per se is beside the point. Whether he's making aesthetic decisions, or executing a form of visual transcription that allows no such decisions, remains unknown. Either way, Salavon's mission appears to be to make work that cleans the cobwebs from the under-regarded, media-saturated part of our consciousness.
Also in view are Stephanie Washburn's photographic images in which everyday objects are placed upon television screens and photographed. The texture of the television screen is instantly understood, and Washburn uses it as both a visual and conceptual background upon which she places both food items, like bread and strands of spaghetti, and household objects, like rubber gloves and tape. Her juxtapositions become insightful comments on the narratives unfolding within that are captured within a single frame (Mark Moore Gallery, Culver City).
The first thing one notices when encountering Alex Prager’s apocalyptic visions is the many photographs of eyes that follow you around the exhibit. Prager is a self-taught photographer who stages scenes and digitally alters them. Her inspiration comes from the media’s love affair with tragedy and the complicit fascination viewers have with disasters. Influenced by the dark cinematic perspectives of Alfred Hichcock and David Lynch, her series of photographs are manipulated to create cinematic view points, a sort of photography noir. Included are views of a drowning at sea, roadside crash victims, houses either on fire or sinking in flood waters and automobiles swallowed by sink holes. Most disturbing though is Prager’s modern version of a retro concept, damsels in distress. Women fall from the sky, landing either on telephone wires, an electric tower or on a burning automobile. Geared toward manipulating emotion, these melodramatic views are intriguing, albeit a bit creepy. Also included is her film “La Petite Mort,” featuring a surreal exploration of sexual ecstasy and death (M+B FIne Art, West Hollywood).
Elizabeth Peyton’s portraits are mostly of artists, musicians, athletes historical figures and personal friends. Derived for the most part from photographs and ephemera such as newspaper pictures, they are rendered in pastels, colored pencil on paper and in oil and aluminum on veneered panel. Although many of her living subjects come from occupations that are geared toward the extroverted, instead of elevating their celebrity status in the typically posed manner, they seem unaware they are being photographed. In fact, Peyton manages to capture them in unselfconsciously intimate moments. They manifest the kind of pensive reflectivity that comes with solitude. Further, subjects are cropped so that they cannot escape intrusion into their private moments. Her studies show an affinity to the realist, modernist portraits of artists such as David Hockney, Don Bachardy and Alice Neel, whose drawings may give the feeling that they are quickly rendered and improvisational, but are indeed studied takes on underlying narratives (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).
Fiona Banner's "Unboxing, the Greatest Film Never Made" refers to Orson Welles' script adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," a project that was rejected, after which Welles went on to make Citizen Kane. Following just on the heels of a London performance of Welles' unrealized script at the end of March, starring Scottish actor Brian Cox under Banner's direction, "Unboxing" is a tour de force installation featuring a bronze sculpture of boxing gloves; graphite drawings drawn from newly commissioned movie poster designs; and the text of "Heart of Darkness" drawn out in ink across the corners of the upstairs walls. The movie poster drawings are beautiful in their graphite richness, and are the stars of this show. They encapsulate good design – both vintage and contemporary – and in their wildly confident subtexts, are all the more tragic for the shortcomings they belie. They're not without humor, though, as they gloriously send up movie marketing campaign hyperbole in their clamoring hype. One of them even pulls quotes from Welles himself: "A Deliberate Masterpiece. A Downright Incantation" (1301PE, Miracle Mile).
Daido Moriyama’s photographs expose the gritty underside of cities, particularly in Japan. Though age-old traditions prevail, Moriyama delves into that country's uneasy co-existence with modern Western society. Using a cinematic, almost documentary approach to subjects, his grainy black and white scenes are often off-center, out of focus or shot from odd angles. Moriyama says he wanders the streets like a stray dog, capturing unsuspecting subjects in awkward, unguarded moments: women are caught half-way up stairs or on an escalator, for example. These are fragments of scenes that leave much to imagination. A favorite subject is the backstreets of the more seedy areas of Tokyo, environments where mobsters and prostitutes coexist with government officials and housewives. The photographs share an affinity with similar subjects portrayed in 17th century Ukiyo-e prints. But stark black and white contrasts, misty night vision and eerie reflections infuse the photographs with a sense of mystery that make them distinctly modern. Shadowy figures and angry prowling animals strike a particularly ominous tone, a ploy to communicate the existential sense of isolation that occurs in chaotic environments. In "TRAVELER," a man on a train is so deep into his private musings that he is oblivious to everything around him. Moriyama tackles eclectic subjects in a variety of styles. Photographs of lips, or eyes or a solitary hat seem to pay homage to Man Ray, while evocative vegetables bear a connection to those of Edward Weston. But it is in his cogent approach to street life that Moriyama comes uniquely into his own (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] and Stephen Cohen Gallery, Miracle Mile).
Step inside the quirky world of Maximo Gonzalez’s exhibition "PLAYFUL" and contemplate the serious messages behind his humorous evocations. Absurdity and outstanding craftsmanship help to mitigate his provocative statements about contemporary politics and culture. Gonzalez was born in Argentina but resides in Mexico. His artworks draw from a deep vein of Mexican craft and folk art traditions, particularly weaving and paper cutouts. His methods bring new life to old materials, particularly obsolete currency, which he cuts into pieces and weaves into complex stories and designs. Strips of devalued pesos, for example, are woven into tapestries, murals and wall designs. For the most part, craft and the use of outdated currency make designs self-referential. However, in works such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” he alludes to contemporary concerns. A 200-foot long series of designs exposes the complexities of ecosystems in which machines and vegetation destroy each other. Mexican traditions of storytelling with cutouts is evident in “Timeline,” where images taken from children’s texts are used to create his own version of the Chrisopher Columbus story. In the tradition of redefining how we view the ordinary through the recycling of old objects, an arrangement of aluminum trays alludes to the fact that aluminum was once considered a precious metal. But in the spirit of turning the commonplace into objects of beauty, we turn to his installation “Warning Monument.“ Surrounding red plastic housewares with glowing red lights, he manages to achieve dazzling results (Craft and Folk Art Museum, Miracle Mile).
A trio of exhibitions — "Saving Paradise," "Hybrid Romance," and "Un-Natural" — span the arc of landscape representation, from traditional plein-air realism, through a compelling mixture of Maria Sibylia Merian-like botanicals and whimsical AbEX splashes, to very Postmodern mixes of materials and techniques. Brilliantly curated by Scott Canty, the three exhibitions call our attention to the fact that romantic nostalgia for the land has been challenged in recent years, largely replaced by conflicted views that vacillate between longing and loss. "Saving Paradise" is a group exhibition of the California Art Club, with focus on the relationship between landscape painting and preservation efforts. "Hybrid Romance" is a selection of Lawrence T. Yun’s remarkable watercolors, exquisitely rendered plants and flowers laid over pale splashes of color. "Un-Natural" features four equally accomplished women who take painting far beyond its traditional territory: Merion Estes uses collage extensively; Constance Mallinson incorporates three-dimensional objects in her spectacular portrayal of the forest floor; Fatemeh Burnes builds elegant wooden platforms on the surfaces of her finely crafted compositions; and Lisa Adams explores an intriguingly diverse compendium of pictorial styles. Given the rich conceptual fields embedded in their works, none of these women should be considered “just” a landscape painter. Indeed, that is the through line of all three exhibitions: They approach the landscape as site of ideation, rather than neutral terrain for simple mimesis (Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Hollywood).
Betty Ann Brown
Ronald Santos' pen and ink drawings consist of overlapping and criss-crossing lines made with red, green, black and blue pen on paper ranging from 14 x 11 inches to 40 x 50 inches. The works have a formal elegance and are emotionally wrought, as befits Santos having started the process of these drawings in hospital waiting rooms during his mother's (ultimately losing) battle with cancer. The repetition creates a rhythm that infuses the works with a musical cadence. One can imagine the pulsating of various tones transformed to the paper. The sequence of lines, both long and short recall some of the works of conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. But Santos' works are not created by a series of rules, rather by the chaos that unfolds as one makes marks on paper over and over again for a period time (Gallery KM, Santa Monica).
The process of making art, so tantamount to existentialist theater, performance and the discernment of Jackson Pollock’s legacy, is vital to Brooklyn based Alex Hubbard’s dynamic videos. Three recent works, “The Border,” “The Ship” and “Eat Your Friends” alternate on two stark white screens that suggest the standard dimensions of oversized paintings, one square and the other rectangular. Hubbard continuously adds and takes away a colorful and eclectic variety of common household items, junk and art materials, creating cycles of evolving and vanishing compositions. Audiences hear the scrapes and bumps of ladders dragged, stencils cut and bones falling. Paint splashes and spilled coffee flows against gravity. The confusion as to what is up and what is down is amplified by Hubbard’s employment of a white cyclorama, similar to a green screen in its ability to suggest limitless space. The artist periodically reaches or steps into the frame, unexpectedly, his actions made all the more comedic by rapid jump cuts. Events occur simultaneously. A mouse scampers across the void, seemingly disoriented by the tension created by Hubbard’s unpredictable actions. Viewers seemingly amused, confused, and/or distraught by Hubbard’s deadpan approach to image making, nevertheless will be engaged (The Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
With reductionist simplicity melded with expressive depth, Mark Harrington creates flag-like rows of torn and ripped colored horizontal stripes that at first read as bands of rhythmical patterns. The rows alternate between negative stripes and forcefully defined marks. Horizontality becomes verticality with a slight dizzying effect as the image beckons the eye to take in the whole, and then move left then right and back again. Like a palindrome, where a word is read the same backwards and forwards, each painted row has a similar effect. But these are not concrete printed words, but abstract subdued colors, shapes, and space – illusions that keep the eyeballs busy. There is a sense of unending activity; the edge is never reached, nor is resolution. Even the top and bottom suggest a passage of time and space, like a ladder that goes up and down, while at the same time going back and forth. Harrington is like a mathematician who creates a new visual formula that explains artistic distance: the faraway, the near, and the out-of-focus. Being pulled in each direction and moving at different speeds, each image becomes like soundless music chanting its inner voices. Inventing his own tools and developing the chemistry to render unique surfaces, the artist creates work that seems deceptively easy. Straightforward parallel lines evolve from the thought process of an artist who understands abstraction intimately. Harrington’s art shows us how maximum minimal can be (Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield).
The history of ceramic figurines has been challenged by German artist Gerit Grimm. Were it not for CSU Long Beach, where Grimm is currently an artist in residence, and its outstanding ceramic department (together with it's gigantic kilns), this charming and innovative exhibit, "Beyond the Figurine," would not have been possible. Inspired by two miniature figurine collections that were bequeathed to the Long Beach Museum of Art, Grimm set out to create her own version of the Old World imagery they represent. Working non-stop for six months, she produced three rooms full of stunning, life-sized tableaus that expand the themes of the small sculptures. Gone are the vibrant polychrome glazes the Statffordshire porcelains are known for. In their place, Grimm enhances her forms of adults, children, babies, angels, horses, fish, farmers, flowers, and fountains by retaining the original color of clay. Serendipitous or not, it's impossible to view so many playful figures without thinking of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Like all stories of that sort – myths, legends, fables, morality plays, biblical narratives and even nursery rhymes – serious instruction lurks just below the playful surface. Indeed, Grimm's creativity involves much more than her technical skill and the delightful creatures that greet museum visitors (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).
“Sacred Gold: Pre-Hispanic Art of Colombia” is filled with golden treasures; some as body ornaments, others as tools and vessels, all crafted by artisans from 500 B.C. to 1,500 A.D. More than 200 artifacts from the Museo del Oro, Bogotá include large ear pendants, breastplates, vessels and bowls, several echoing the forms of birds, fish and bats, others in pure geometric shapes. Yet beyond the artistry of these pieces, deeper stories are related. Most significant is that the creation of these treasures - by people for whom gold was regarded as a “gift” from the sun, and to which they attached no monetary value - was brought to a halt with the Spanish conquistadors and the European weapons and diseases they brought with them. Another story concerns the works’ artistic qualities and forms including straight lines, circles, squares and triangles, and styles depicting humankind’s interpersonal relationships, interaction with nature, and the synthesis of realistic with abstract forms. The third story is that a prosperous, ancient culture regarded these treasures as an intrinsic part of life, so much so that metallurgic artists worked full-time in the employ of the countries rulers. The results of their efforts are magnificently crafted artworks by any era’s standards. “Phytomorphous lime container,” a tall, slender golden vessel, has the spare elegance of a Brancusi sculpture. “Necklace with claw-shaped beads” is large and perfectly crafted, likely worn for ceremonial purposes. “Bird-shaped breastplate,” combining abstract with realistic forms, is a simple, graceful pendant-like object that feels contemporary. “Fish-shaped pendant” is more ornate, with semi-circular filigree work. The final piece in this exhibition is “Gem Gold Cross,” created in the 17th century, long after the decline of pre-Hispanic Columbia. An emerald and gold crucifix with gold chain rosary, it was discovered at the bottom of the ocean near Florida in 1986. Through intricately and deftly crafted, it tellingly lacks the simple elegance of most other works in this show (Bowers Museum, Orange County).
When it comes to relics and ruins steeped in ancient history, Southern California is not exactly Athens or Rome. But, the crumbling Ed Toro Marine Air Station upon which the Orange County Great Park slowly unfolds has already provided plenty of creative fodder for historically minded local artists. “Marks on the Land: The View from Here. Aerial Photographs by Tom Lamb” features minimally altered digital shots taken by helicopter of the airbase’s buildings and runways, disappearing adjoining fields and what is left of two former Tustin air bases. The results are nothing short of spectacular, not at all what one would expect of aerial photography. Instead Lamb’s prints resemble abstract paintings ("Kandinsky, 2011") in some instances or in others the mysterious creations attributed to galactic visitors ("Traction"). Widely traveled and versatile, Lamb likes to classify himself as an abstract expressionist photographer. “Anselm Kiefer, 2007” bears him out. Shooting from varying elevations, marks on the landscape such as tire tracks or tractor grooves offer a visual leitmotif; while smaller shapes, sometimes a mere speck of color (“Tustin One, 2005”) provide a sense of proportion and additional visual stimulant. The work also invites ruminations about use of land, the influence of developers over peacetime urban/suburban politics, new interpretations of the biblical transformation of swords into plowshares. And most specifically to his subject, military hangars into gardens and grassland. “PA 40 Sprinkler, 2006” recalls Sufi dancers and thoughts on motion and grace, qualities that these images do not skimp on (Palm Court Arts Complex, Great Park Gallery).
“Ray Friesz (1930-2007)” is not only a first but a fitting artistic memorial for this long-time Laguna Beach painter. Friesz, who called himself a “Plein Air abstractionist,” combined the two painting styles by taking his easel outside, atop the Laguna canyons near his home, to the nearby beaches, and most likely to the mountains a few hours away. His works, depicting trees, rocks, trails and vistas, are skewed through the prism of his imagination, while adhering to his love for Abstract Expressionism. The 23 paintings here evoke in an imaginative way the landscapes he saw. “Snow Fall” is a four-panel, 192-inch wide canvas of a furious winter storm. The fusion of white, blue and gray with a big wad of white toward the left and thickly painted snowflakes throughout is a powerful visual jolt. “Fire Fall,” by contrast, presents a longer vision, possibly a canyon view, of rocks and trees, interspersed with red that references the fires that ravaged Laguna Beach in the early nineties. “Burning Soul” is a more metaphorical work, this time with a near majority of the painting in reds exploding into several areas of the canvas that feels like the portention of a coming Armageddon. There are tranquil paintings too. In “Tidal Rocks” blue seawater splashes against gray, striated rocks cradled by calming pools of green. The way that Friesz applies his abstract brushstrokes offers a strong sensory experience (Brett Rubbico, Orange County).
“Inner Visions: Women Artists of California” offers oils and watercolors depicting the harmonious Southern California settings this specialty museum is known for. Examples include Donna Schuster’s exquisitely painted (and often exhibited locally for this county’s Plein Air art admirers) “Summer Idyll,” depicting a woman in a hammock reading a book; and Anna Hills’ “Springtime, Banning, California,” with its colorful burst of spring blossoms. There are several Marion Kavanagh Wachtel watercolors of bucolic landscapes in muted pastels and southwestern colors. Yet surprises are here, particularly among pieces painted after 1930. A standout is Elsie Palmer Payne’s detailed oil, “The Thrifty Drug Store,” of a crowded horseshoe-shaped mid-century luncheonette counter. Blue-uniformed waitresses and patrons intently attend to their lunches and – in one case – smoking. With its carefully rendered, flat, modernist style, this 60-plus year-old work is a refreshing change of pace here. “The Johnson Girl” by Belle Baranceau, another more modern work, is a seated portrait of a young woman, her clear brown eyes reflecting the wooden chair on which she sites and the colors and frames of several modern paintings behind her. Jessie Arms Botke’s two oils on board, “Macau and Cockatoos” and “Crowned Pigeons,” are wildly colored, expressionistic portraits of birds. But the centerpiece of this exhibition is Botke’s 1953 “Mural from the Oaks Hotel,” gifted to this museum when this Ojai hotel was under renovation. At 7 x 26 feet, it had to be mounted here on two opposing walls. Its fanciful depiction of a lush, primitive landscape, featuring flamingoes and other tropical birds lightens and lifts the entire exhibition (Irvine Museum, Orange County).