Jeffrey Vallance, “Oscar Mayer Weiner Mascot Meetings,” 1974, is currently on view at CSU Northridge.


Former CSU Northridge faculty member Peter Plagens wrote “Sunshine Muse,” purportedly the earliest publication to introduce Southern California art into the New York-centric history of American modernism, in 1974. Forty years later, the focus narrows with “Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley ca. 1970 – 1990,” a long overdue overview of the stereotyped San Fernando Valley’s under-recognized role in L A’s emergence as a center of contemporary art activity. Curator and art historian Damon Willick welcomes personal remembrances from the likes of Jeffrey Vallance, Benjamin Weissman and Mark Van Proyen, enhancing his astute examination of roles played by the Orlando and R Mutt galleries, mini malls, LAICA, CSUN and L.A. Valley College faculty and students in the generously illustrated companion book he has authored.

The exhibition itself is energized by its diversity. Vallance’s fascination with the Oscar Mayer Wiener Mascot meets Michael MacMillen’s dusty Mystery Museum. Karen Carson’s smoldering beds suggest a feminist’s viewpoint alongside Jon Swihart’s mystifying “Untitled (CSUN Tool Guy).” A delicate, logically derived construction by Channa Horwitz makes Fidel Danieli’s “Portrait of Peter Lodato” all the more darkly dramatic. Conceptual photographer John Divola’s high contrast black and white images of Valley women watering their lawns foretell the sprawl of domesticity that will inevitably edge into the wide open, rugged hillsides so convincingly portrayed by Bruce Everett in “Sand Canyon Road.” Visitors willing to let Jerry McMillan’s “Untitled Torn Bag (Porch)” act as a stimulus to look beyond the conventional will be rewarded by what they find (CSU Northridge Art Gallery, Valley).

Diane Calder





Leslie D. Davis, "Gastrulation,” 2014, manzinita and glass, 19 x 35”, is currently on view at OCCCA.



Leslie Davis, glass artist and curator of “The Art of Stem Cells,” started out wanting to help returning injured veterans. Attending her first stem cell research meeting changed her life and her art. Davis began to consult with the world’s most knowledgeable scientists to probe the esoteric subject of stem cell research and how she could be useful in helping scientists explain their research in more concrete sculptural formats. This is the third exhibition Davis has mounted, this one including a cadre of 28 artists who prove that art can move a field forward by helping non-artistic scientists visualize the problem and, consequently, find a solution more easily. Each artist in the show is paired with a world-class scientist.


Among the most powerful works in the show is a 20-minute computer animated film by Jeff Alu, working with Aileen Anderson, Ph.D., the world’s leading spinal cord researcher. In the film, maverick cells attempt to invade healthy cells. Much like super heroes, healthy cells push away the maverick and the harmful. Nancy Voegli-Curran and Maxim Plikus, M.D., Ph.D., who works on skin research, delve into patterns, self-organization, and the interaction of whole organic systems composed of its parts. Using drawing materials on Pillion, Duralar and nylon threads, Voegli-Curran came up with an enormous layered assemblage, gossamer lace-like sheets of drawings that have helped Plikus explore regenerative behaviors in hair loss, but which, by itself, is stunning.


Basically, what current stem cell research is about is how new and healing cells can replace maverick cells. The point is not to extend nor destroy life, but to improve the quality of those who desperately need healing in a particular area of their body. The art in the exhibition is realistic and beautifully rendered, although, to the untrained eye, much appears abstract. Stimulating artistic depictions of scientific reality leaves the visitor with a sense of awe for the art, and optimism that, through science, cells can be repaired, regrown, and reborn (OCCCA, Orange County).

Roberta Carasso




Nicola Verlato, “Hostia,” 2014, is currently on view at the Italian Cultural Institute.



One of them lives in Los Angeles, the other three live in Italy. What connects these four Italian artists, including Nicola Verlato, Fulvio di Piazza, Marco Mazzoni and Agostino Arrivabene, who comprise this show titled “Juxtapoz Italiano” is not only their cultural heritage, but that they help metamorphosing the process of receiving public recognition as artists by reversing the chronological order of things. Hence, they first employed Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to receive a large number of followers before getting published in a widely circulated art magazine and then moved on to be shown in a public gallery. What also connects these four Italians is that they challenge conventions by revolutionizing the figurative tradition of Italian art. For example, Verlato's “Hostia" at first glance has the appearance of a Renaissance fresco. There is a mythological figure in the center surrounded by a narrative telling about the conflicts and quarrels in the secular world. There is a woman with a 50s hair-style dressed in a short skirt with her son sitting on her lap; and a man in jeans and a muscle shirt falling down from the ceiling. Verlato finds a modern image on the Internet with a character in a sort of Michelangelesque pose. Then he prints it and creates a three-dimensional model of clay based on it. After that, he makes studies from the clay which poses he has live models assume. He then photographs and works the new images over with a pencil. At the end of this procedure the model mimics the final pose for the painting (Italian Cultural Institute, West Los Angeles).

Simone Kussatz




Klea McKenna, “Rain Study (Kona),” 2014, unique gelatin silver photogram, 20 x 24", is currently on view at at Von Lintel.



In Melaine Willhide's latest body of work, entitled "Henbane for Honey Bun," she continues a methodology begun in a previous body of work — "To Adrian Rodrigues with Love," where she used Photoshop to simulate the look of a corrupted file. Interested in the aesthetics of the failed algorithm and how its alters the image, Wilhide infects her images with irregularities. Beginning with photographs of women and flowers, she carefully combines them and then distorts aspects of the image as if dragging liquefied colors from one part to another. The effects are visually stunning as well as jarring as the subjects are dissociated from their source, becoming otherworldly. "Henbane for Honey Bun" reifies Willhide's interest in fantasy, as many of the images were appropriated from Playgirl Magazine, and they are combined with others to illustrate the hallucinatory aspects of digital photography.


"Process-based abstraction" is a M.O. that has risen to peak proliferation in painting in recent years, and even more recently is often seen in some sectors of the photography arena as well. The raindrop abstractions seen in Klea McKenna's show, titled "No Light Unbroken," are very much of this methodology. Printed on gelatin silver paper, her photograms conjure amniocentesis scans, cell studies and vague spaces of water submersion. As with some parallel painting processes, the results inevitably provoke questions around how they're made: are the pieces of photo paper simply put out in the rain for varying lengths of time? How dependent is the process on the Hawaiian-specific rainstorms as her source? What we do know is that they're made at night, and that some darkroom manipulation factors in, but that's it. The other body of photograms here, featuring very large palm fronds and what she calls "volcanic light," are both beautifully colorful and yet more pat than their black-and-white brethren. Though the fronds' illumination is dark and alluring, its potential mystery is overshadowed (pun intended) by its recognizability, both in image and to a lesser extent its process. With the palms, there's more artist and less mystery, whereas with the rain studies, it's the other way around (Von Lintel Gallery, Culver City)

Jody Zellen / Michael Shaw




Brendan Donnelly, “Good Juju/Bad Juju,” 2013, ink on paper, 20 x 16”, is currently on view at Paul Loya.



There are worse artists to be derivative of than Mike Kelley, but derivative is still the operative word. Such is the case with half of Brendan Donnelly's show, "How to Be a Magician in Your Spare Time." Several acrylic-on-canvas banners are hung, rather unconvincingly, on a U-shaped section of chain-link fence, each piece divided by black-and-white images on the left side and white text on a black background on the right. In the painting that shares the show's title, a longhaired and bearded 'magician' pleasures himself with his tongue while in a heavily contorted yoga-like pose. In another, the Disneyland castle, backed by emanating concentric circles and a cigarette-clutching, Walt-like zombie is given the line "the greatest story ever told." Others spout more bumper sticker-like faux prophecies (a parent and child pair of skeletons with the words "life sucks and then you die. then you're reincarnated and life sucks again"), which are of course ultimately thin and forgettable, and much of the imagery throughout is unmistakably reminiscent of early Kelley. Despite all that, the series of rear windshields heavily decorated with bumper stickers and hung on the wall provide substantial juice. Each features specific ideological types, too specific, perhaps, to be called stereotypes, including a Rasta dude, a BDSM gay bear, an NRA-loving conservative patriot and a devil-worshipping Goth, among others. The ornate gatherings of stickers combine actual pre-existing fare with custom-made designs by Donnelly that both amp up and artify the overall windshield composition, and not in a bad way. It's a difficult problem to try and reconstitute such familiar imagery to which we tend to be inured. But when taken this over-the-top, this pop culture iconography is at least worth a second look (Paul Loya Gallery, Culver City).





Rirkrit Tiravanija and Superflex, “Iraqi Oil Truck (Blackout Version),” 2013, plastic truck, place paint, 9 7/8 x 9 7/8 x 15 3/4”, is currently on view at 1301PE.



In the latest collaboration between Rirkrit Tiravanija and the Copenhagen-based artist group Superflex, good luck finding the 'there' there. Using a conceptual framework of censorship, the show includes an installation of black anti-objects, with the exception of a black-painted plastic toy oil truck set on a pedestal. The walls are lined with several black-paint silhouettes of the Biogas PH5 Lamp (from an edition of 50), which is an adaptation of an ubiquitous Danish lamp that Superflex appropriated with the intention of worldwide usage, only to receive a cease-and-desist letter from the company that owns the original copyright. A piece made of planks of black mirrored-glass tucked into a corner makes its presence known but also announces its absence, while a long black rectangle with stylishly absent lower-left and upper-right corner segments is also very present, and yet empty (it is, after all, a symbol of cover-up). It's elegant, elusive and confounding. Unlike other Tiravanija projects, there's no communal eating here; even the PH5 Lamp's role as a meal's central gathering point is subsumed by blackness. But that's not the prevailing mood; as with most artful nods toward censorship, mischievousness prevails (1301PE, Miracle Mile).





Matthew Ronay, "Inner Realm,” 2013, basswood, dye, cotton, plastic, steel, dimensions vary, is currently on view at Marc Foxx.



Matthew Ronay's stunning installation of carved and dyed basswood objects are arrayed size-sequentially on islands of red felt, proceeding to a 'crown' of several more objects on a far wall. The collective grouping encompasses super-stylized flora, new-age iconography, 70s-era toys and, for lack of a better categorization, ovulatory iconography. As pastel-bright and playful as the work is, there's a darkish undercurrent; it may be the dry, deadpan approach to the objects of female reproduction (the most explicit pieces include "Birthing Excreting Purple Cleft Ovoids," and a sort of tower-of-eggs called "Ovulating Tone"), but it also may be the backstory of Ronay's work, which has been rooted in dark-arts imagery — cloaks were featured prominently in past work. His bold foray into an overwhelming pastel palette is courageous (that Judy Chicago eventually comes to mind is noteworthy if ultimately dismissible), though not uncalculated; Ronay stops well before going too far. And the intensity of the craftsmanship is key — yes, it's always key, but more-so here — the hive of small holes carved into the yellow base of "Cloaca Vent with Sorcerer Control Rods" makes Yayoi Kusama's dot patterns feel lazy by comparison. This impressive body, using challenging-to-pull-off New Age-esque imagery, has an elusive mood and impact, a difficult but admirable place to leave a viewer (Marc Foxx Gallery, Miracle Mile).





Giuseppe Penone, “Luce zenitale / Zenithal Light,” 2012, bronze and gold, 157 1/2 x 59 1/8 x 59 1/8”, is currently on view at Gagosian.  Photo:  Josh White.



“Branches of Thought” is Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s first major exhibition on the West Coast, and its ambition is at once modest and epic. Trees fascinate the artist: their form, their growth and decay. He clearly projects our being into theirs. Using drawing, photography, and sculpture, he reveals to us our own life through the tree and its parts. The series "Pelle di foglie" is made up of sculptures that resemble long branches found in the forest seemingly assembled by a passing stranger. The three here stand in delicate balance, the branches leaning or braced against one another. Despite the fact that the pieces are cast in bronze, they exude fragility, as if a gust of wind might knock them down.


“Anatomy” is a massive marble sculpture that stands 10-feet tall, a solid block of stone with a lacy intertwine of roots carved into one corner. “Spine d'acacia—Contatto, aprile 2006” is a spellbinding arrangement of glass microspheres and acacia thorns adhered to a large canvas. The pattern is reminiscent of a magnetic field of iron filings. The tour de force of this exhibition is “Door Tree-Cedar," a tree within a tree.  In the sturdy trunk of a very large cedar the artist has managed to excavate the heartwood within from the carved-out middle — the tree when it was a young and tender sapling. You can see how its skinny branches connect to the knots on the rough bark on the “mother” tree, and you suddenly realize that young trees are still inside old trees. Then we begin to think how we, too, retain the child inside of us. It’s a truth that is expressed so eloquently, so beautifully, and so directly. As Penone has said, “The tree is a being that memorializes the feats of its existence in its very form. Similarly, our bodies could be considered the sum of the performance of our existence” (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Scarlet Cheng




Yvonne Rainer in the “Bach” section of “Terrain," 1963. Performed at Judson Memorial Church, New York, 1963, is currently on view at J. Paul Getty Museum. Photo: Al Giese.



Some of the exhilaration of witnessing a unique performance by acclaimed dancer Yvonne Rainer is occasionally captured on films or video. Enhanced by stage lighting, the positioning of the camera and appearance of costumes that augment the lines of the dancer’s body as they move through space, films also provide glimpses into the preparation and practice of dance, a perspective that the average audience member cannot get from their seat in the balcony. Films such as Babette Mangolte’s “Valda’s Solo” from “Lives of Performers (1972), Yvonne Rainer,” part of the Institute’s Rainer archive, reveal a great deal of Rainer’s acclaimed attributes. But when a dancer this influential is also a provocative choreographer, activist, feminist, writer and filmmaker, more is needed to even begin to adequately investigate her contributions. And so, photographs, dance scores, program statements, rehearsal footage and provocative excerpts from Rainer’s diaries, notebooks and journals are presented alongside films by and about her. Together they reveal insights into Rainer’s social consciousness, unique contributions to the incorporation of ordinary movement into dance and in support of the feminist cause (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).





Rosanne Sexauer, “The Bleeding Heart,” 1999, woodcut, lithograph and collagraph, is currently on view at Santa Monica College.



When curator Gordon Fuglie left Los Angeles for Fresno to direct the Central California Museum of Art we lost one of our best curators. Fuglie returns with a retrospective of the work of printmaker Rosanne Sexauer first mounted in 2011. Sexauer, who hails from the Midwest and its long cold winters, found a warm home in a city that has built a long printmaking tradition. She apprenticed, as it were, in the tradition of German Expressionist woodcuts, but found her own trademark style as a printmaker. She often divides her prints into zones, some of which are left blank to give visual relief to the signature horror vaccui of her biomorphic shapes. She allows no surface to exist ungouged or unsecured, taking the familiar and cutting it up to make it strange. Sexauer reimagines the body with all its hidden interiors, teeming with activity. Her favorite motif is the heart, with its flowing veins and many ventricles. Red and throbbing, "The Bleeding Heart" is encircled by a wreath of dragons and a crown of thorns. "Ship of Fools" is indicative of her additive process, as a rib cage bends and breaks, free-floating in the ether, accompanied by mysterious biological objects. These mid-sized prints reward long and intimate viewing as the spectator joins the artist's stream of consciousness (Santa Monica College, Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery, Santa Monica).

Jeanne Willette




Holly Roberts, “Woman with Three Faces,” 2014, mixed media, 6 x 6”, is currently on view at Craig Krull.



The works of Holly Roberts and James Griffith are a good pairing due to the prevalence of animals as well as their earth tone colors. Aside from that, they strike a decided aesthetic contrast. Roberts’ oeuvre consists of photographic images of trees, dried mud, Navajo blankets, snakeskin, nests, eyes and cut-out texts in the English or Chinese language that are all collaged onto painted surfaces. Her art presents stylized human and animal figures or scenes, which are informed by classical mythologies and religious parables that possess a sense of mystery. “Woman with Three Faces” features a distorted face of a woman, whose eyes are positioned on two levels. It appears as if she only has one eye in the middle of her forehead like a Greek Cyclops. In contrast, Griffith’s body of work is much more forward. Beautifully painted with tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, they present images of nature and its inhabitants: deer, insects, different types of birds, and other animals. These collectively provoke reflection on the fundamental questions about life — “Who are we? And how did we get here?” (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica)





Gronk Nicandro, “Untitled (14-007,) 2014, monoprint, 24 1/16 x 29 1/4”, is currently on view at Lora Schlesinger.



Gronk Nicandro presents mixed media works, paintings and monoprints made in preparation for and in response to painting sets for Peter Sellars' adaptation of Henry Purcell's Opera "The Indian Queen." The abstract works are full of energetic mark-making that allude to hieroglyphs, graffiti and scribbles in somber earth tones. While the libretto of the opera is not evident in Gronk's interpretation, a feeling and energy directs the viewer to that content. At the gallery's entrance a video of the performance is on view contextualizing the project, helpfully illuminating the relationship between the visuals and the related musical context (Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).





Yvonne Venegas, “Untitled,” color photograph, is currently on view at Shoshana Wayne.



Yvonne Venegas is a photographer based in Mexico City who, rather than the familiar focus on the poorer aspects of the country focuses her camera on the indulgences of the upper classes to speak about inequality and race. San Pedro Garza Garcia, on of the wealthiest cities in Latin American, is depicted through a series of color photographs. Using postings from the magazine El Norte's social pages as her point of departure, she invited residents to perform in front of her camera to unabashedly tell their story to audiences beyond their locked gates. The resulting photographs depict people at weddings, parties, and festivals. Venegas shares what she sees in a straightforward documentary manner. While there may be an implicit criticality, Venegas' attitude toward her subjects retains an objective distance (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).





Audra Weaser, “Sensing,” 2014, mixed media acrylic on panel, 60 x 54”, is currently on view at Ruth Bachofner.



For art aficionados who value subtle colors, minimalism and abstract art with a touch of realism, check out the paintings of Audra Weaser and Gary Edward Blum. Weaser’s paintings give off a beautiful golden shimmer. Inspired by her immersion in nature, they hint towards days spent gazing at windows covered with icicles, wetlands with reefs, and other watery surfaces. They also reflect delicate and elongated tree branches. Her canvases radiate the kind of brightness and sense of evanescent light we associate with J.M.W. Turner. Furthermore, they have a dreamlike component that calls to mind the gently rippling water in Monet’s “Water Lilies.”  Blum’s works, by contrast, are more logical and less emotive. Eschewing the organic, they are arrangements of geometric forms and an abstract portrayal of the idea that oppositions can exist harmoniously in the same space. His oeuvre depicts found objects, such as paint swatch cards that simultaneously function as still life, autobiographical record and formal tools to create tensions between flatness and depth. Blum renders these in a trompe l’oeil manner. For example, in “You are Never Alone” it appears as if there is a many-hued asymmetrical painting attached to the wall by Scotch tape, which is in fact part of a bigger painting made of two rectangular forms in two different beiges (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).





Steve Hurd, “The Roar #6,” 2014, oil on canvas, 36 x 27 1/4”, is currently on view at Rosamund Felsen.



Referring to works by modernist artists like Pablo Picasso and Hannah Hoch, the Guggenheim Museum’s online art glossary defines collage as part of a methodical reexamination of the relation between painting and sculpture, giving each medium some of the characteristics of the other. Furthermore, “These chopped-up bits of newspaper introduce fragments of externally referenced meaning into the collision.” Steve Hurd takes this definition and runs with it. His “What food does your favorite star remind you of?” and four other 1990’s oil paintings based on stunning media reversals, demonstrate Hurd’s love of the ironic in hand painted representations of collage elements that push the boundaries of an artist’s ability to replicate the look of collaged source materials. “Tightwad,” a more recent oil painting of crumpled aluminum foil, examines light, texture, and the boundary between two and three dimensions. Painted on canvas over a wood panel cut to conform to the outlines of the hunk of foil, it plays with the line between painted sculpture and free-formed painting. Hurd expands on his references to earlier art-making with a rainbow of paint that arches into a shoe that could have made it’s first appearance in an ad by Andy Warhol. The vibrant red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet stripes of the rainbow contrast with the turn of Hurd’s palette towards the pastel in the remaining four works in the show, loosely painted, close-up portrayals of toothy, snarling cats from a series he calls “The Roar.” That title could easily be the ever-adventurous Hurd’s motto (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).





Doug Argue, “Transitions,” 2014, oil on canvas, 70 x 94”, is currently on view at Richard Heller.



Doug Argue is a New Jersey based painter who creates larges scale abstractions that are overlaid with letters. In "Page Turner" he uses fragments from texts by Melville, Proust and Blake that are carefully distorted on the computer and subsequently stenciled atop of colorful swirls and splashes. The letters are positioned at all angles and recede into space in contrast to one another, making the formation of words impossible. The paintings evoke authority as the poetics of language, even when embedded in abstraction. They resonate on multiple levels, engaging with the language of painting as well as the beauty of prose (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).





Peter Shelton, “frenchvent,” 2004, cast bronze, 23 x 16 x 10 1/2”, is currently on view at Mount St. Mary’s College.



Peter Shelton, who was interested in medicine in his student days, changed his career path to become one of our most innovative and arresting sculptors. His creative mind hops, skips, and jumps with imaginative leaps from one mood to another. Although best known for oddly shaped objects that may of may not have specific biological origins, Shelton’s aesthetic is all about a mash-up of traditions that is signaled by his practice of running words together for his titles. This small-scale but tight exhibition of anthropomorphic stand-alone works reference human body parts and other curious shapes that may or may not be turned inside out and refolded. The sculptures are accompanied by their graphic counterpoints, a series of lovely drawings. “Grayslump," for example, could be a coat, it could be discarded skin, or it could be an elephant’s sweater. Just as “redtop" might be a vessel or a human belly as a pot and “frenchvent" could be a Hans Bellmer doll sprouting octopus suckers. As Shelton has pointed out, his sculpture is a ‘negotiation' as he works through from the exterior of the body into its interior, thinking like an anthropologist interpreting an alien society. The interior is present, not always revealed, but pondered upon with witty gravitas (Mount St. Mary’s College, José Drudis-Biada Gallery, West Los Angeles).





Roy Arden, “The West is the Best,” 2009, mixed media, 18 7/8 x 14”, is currently on view at Richard Telles.



Roy Arden's “Modern Times” is a world appropriated from vintage Disney-era animation stills, one that is for the most part people-less, character-less and sneak-up-on-you wack. While a skeleton of comic delight remains, its humor has been vacuumed out and refilled with a dystopia that's alternately melancholic and black comedic. An eight-part series dubbed “Malevich (octaptych 1-8)" takes us on a dive-bomb journey from an aerial view above a large backyard straight into a tree, and/or a splat that could imply our impact. It's an intriguing comingling of now-standard Google Earth-like surveillance with classic cartoon imagery, and the limitations of the gallery's size makes the journey that much more intimate. A single painting includes the remains of a building's destruction, leaving only the foundational plumbing in the form of a tower of floating bathtubs, and it is dubbed “Duchamp.” A triptych of an old farm buggy that, in the third panel morphs into a plane caught in an explosion of black paint, becomes "American Gothic."  There are also two cartoony train sculptures — one colored, one black — in which the trains become engulfed in smears of mixed media melting. They're superfluous amid the larger dead zone; the deadpan landscape works best in concert with the illusionism of its appropriated sources, where we need to live in order for Arden to pull the whole operation off (Richard Telles Gallery, Miracle Mile).





Doug Aitken, Installation view of “Still Life,” 2014, is currently on view at Regen Projects.



"Still Life," Doug Aitken's intriguing site specific installation of lavishly produced wall- and floor-based sculptures explores the growth and decay both of the natural and urban landscape. Aitken has something to say and the capability to say it with style. “Twilight,” one of the most evocative works in the show, is a cast resin and acrylic simulacra of a public pay phone that has been fitted with a responsive LED lighting system. When viewers approach, the sculpture emits an eerie glow as if this now defunct but once vital object was possessed by the ghost of conversations past. Many walls and the entrance to the gallery have been altered so that their sharp geometry and pristine white surface have an eroded cave-like surface. The light in the main space has also been dimmed to accentuate the aura of Aitken's light-box photographs. The artist has often used mirrors and language in his works, and for "Still Life" he combines them to create kaleidoscopic and vertiginous works whose images are infinitely reflected. Words including RUN, NOW, END, EXIT, HOME, and NATIVE LAND direct the meaning of the exhibition. While past works were concerned with motion, Aitken has stated that in this body of work he wanted to slow things down and freeze time to really look at specific aspects of the environment (Regen Projects, Hollywood).





Eske Kath, “Shore," 2014, acrylic and coal on unprimed linen, 74 x 86”, is currently on view at Charlie James.



Civilization and the natural world are set at odds with one another in a series of paintings by Danish-born Eske Kath for his second solo show, titled “Arena." The man-made world, symbolized by the repeated motif of starkly rendered Monopoly-esque homes in hyper-saturated hues, are shown haphazardly stacked, sinking into the earth, or even floating against the black abyss of outer space. The floors of the gallery are painted with lines suggesting the latitude and longitude lines on a globe tying the viewer into the dialogue between these two forces.


Throughout the exhibition, the sharp geometry and bright colors of the simplified houses exist in contrast to the curvilinear lines and earthy palette of the natural forms. Three works in the front gallery—“Clash," "A Sanded Place," and the imposing “Shore” — are painted on unprimed linen, with large expanses of the support material exposed to the viewer. Eske continues the painted natural forms in charcoal lines drawn on the “unfinished” areas, creating a sense of incessant and undomesticated growth. In “Clash," the empty structures lie in disarray as the plant-like forms rise up — like the tentacles of a giant squid — to reclaim the land. On the opposite wall, three works painted on blackboard continue the aesthetic of the artist’s previous show at the gallery, though with an increasingly minimalist vision. Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in “Neighbors,” in which two empty homes, isolated from the earth and seemingly one another, drift into the unknown (Charlie James Gallery, Chinatown).

Molly Enholm




Richard Misrach, “Norco Cumulus Clou, Shell Oil Refinery, Norco, Louisiana,” 1998, color photograph, is currently on view at Pomona College. © Richard Misrach



Organized by the Aperture Foundation, the traveling exhibition "Petrochemical America" reveals, bit by bit through a series of large scale photographs and elegantly designed visual narratives, the insidious grip of the petrochemical industry over nearly every aspect of contemporary society. The project, a collaboration between noted photographer Richard Misrach and Manhattan-based landscape architect Kate Orff, identifies itself as an artifact of the petroleum economy it implicates. In illustrating the inescapable presence of petrochemicals, the exhibition acknowledgments disclose the use of chemicals necessary in every step of the exhibition, from Misrach’s photographic process to Orff’s smartly designed graphic substrates and a hanging Plexiglas display — a substitute for the traditional glass vitrine — that deftly offers a view into the planning and creation of the exhibition. Misrach’s immersive photographs, taken along the waterways and the communities around the Mississippi River, range from documentary to moody and foreboding. Some, like "Hazardous Waste Containment Site, Dow Chemical Corporation, Mississippi River, Plaquemine, Louisiana," evoke scenes from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, “Stalker,” which was filmed at an abandoned hydroelectric plant downstream from a chemical factory. Orff’s graphics demonstrate, with cumulative effect, the pervasiveness of petroleum as it cycles through our water, soil and food chain. The final blow falls with the dawning realization of the global effect. A stylized world map, littered with Orff’s icons representing various oil refineries, chemical effluents and industrial waste products reveals concentrations of carcinogens and environmental threats on every continent and every coastline (Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont).

Christopher Michno




Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, "End of the Bucket of Tar with Speaker Trail No. 2,” 1973, mixed media, 104 x 61 x 34”, is currently on view at OCMA.



Since its 1961 inception the Orange County Museum of Art has been exhibiting major figures of the local and national contemporary art world. Artists represented in “The Avant-Garde Collection” form a familiar roster of SoCal art superstars, including John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Llyn Foulkes, George Herms, Craig Kaufman and Ed Ruscha. By unearthing this museum’s vast permanent collection, from which the entire show is drawn, curator Dan Cameron brings to light this venue’s illustrious roots in the acquisition of what was at the time the most cutting edge art practices. Today many of the most striking works are referred to by museum regulars as “old friends.” Among these show-stoppers are Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’ “End of the Bucket of Tar with Speaker Trail No 2” (1973), an old rusty bathtub with faded photos alluding to the Nazi holocaust, and Chris Burden’s enormous installation, “Tale of Two Cities” (1981), a futuristic battleground composed of an international array of war toys. There are some stand-out hard-edge paintings such as Florence Arnold’s “Painting #2” (1958) and Lorser Feitelson’s “Magical Space Forms” (1953). Andy Warhol’s 1972 serigraph “Mao” serializes the painted face of the Chinese Marxist dictator. More recent highlights include Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Moth 5” (2012), a computer generated animation of clothes blowing in the breeze; and Tom LaDuke’s 2002 surrealistic OC landscape “Ice Age,” made of military enamel, watercolor and aluminum paint. As Cameron states in his catalog essay, “There is no longer an avant-garde today, but there might be multiple avant-gardes operating side by side, each one disrupting the accepted parameters of art making just enough to cause a slight tremor...” (Orange County Museum of Art, Orange County).

Liz Goldner




Marti Somers, “Pearl,” 2014, mixed media on panel, 48 x 48”, is currently on view at Sue Greenwood.



The immediate attraction of Marti Somers’ rich, multi-layered paintings is a primitive two-dimensional quality, a childlike innocence, softly rendered figurative and abstract images, geometric shapes and text. A deeper look reveals the artist’s penchant for depicting forms from nature, including butterflies, birds, mammals, flowers, raindrops and sunshine, all included as a visual commentary on the fragile nature of our planet. Yet a deeper aspect of these works is the technique employed, the artist’s obsession to build up several layers of the textured canvasses using paint, encaustic, vintage papers and various other media that are sanded, scraped and re-painted. The combined subject matter, technique and thick surfaces quickly engage and then sustain the eye. One enters into a fantasy world where various natural images surround and embrace each other. “Pearl” is an atmospheric still life with fruit, flowers, birds and candles. “Mother Earth” is a larger geometric rendering with a grid of more than 60 small images from nature, art and life. A brief text at the bottom pleads, “Mother Earth has given Us Breath. In Return, we must Strengthen Our commitment 2 Care for Her” (Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Orange County).





Andrea Brown, “L’Envolee,” 2014, acrylic on canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2”, is currently on view at Salt.



Lively! Is there a better word to describe Brazilian-born painter Andrea Brown's paintings? The work has an aura of magic within a realistic context as her passionate background as a sculptor shines through her painting process. Having worked with dimensional space and a variety of structural materials for years, Brown’s sculptural repertoire influences her painted imagery. Most apparent is how she achieves an immediate sense of contrast between flat color and deep space, serenity and motion; and always one feels the pulse of life within the stillness of the setting. Brown is sensitive to Brazil's Portuguese influence. Often in painted backgrounds, she includes Moorish tiled walls, composed of intricate and regular geometric patterns, and dynamic colors. Many of Brown’s canvases are either of a still life, or a portrait of a figure seen from the rear. She always includes a human presence, even when specifically absent. It is this contrast of tiles against the symbolic foreground that makes each image shout. The tiles are from an age long past, but which continue to be a distinguishing visual presence. The objects, often casually left behind, refer to human interaction. They masterfully break up the visual order of the formal background. Brown imbues and integrates a sense of time, human presence, and culture. Each object — a seashell that represents the human soul or a plant that signifies the life force — has symbolic meaning in Brazilian history and culture (Salt Fine Art, Orange County).





Robert Mars, “Gold Medallion Mobil,” mixed media with resin on panel, 48 x 48”, is currently on view at JoAnne Artman.



Robert Mars presents large collaged canvasses with mid-20th century advertising logos, such as “Chanel” and “Givenchy,” and famous personalities. The artist superimposes large, self-important images of entertainment and fashion superstars over alternate layers of paint and vintage paper and then adds resin. The result is works that simultaneously attract and shock with in-your-face images of Ava Gardner(“Crystal Clear Perfection”), Audrey Hepburn (“Plus the Status Audrey”) Marilyn Monroe (“New Fire Marilyn”) Jackie Onassis (“How to Light Fires Jackie O”) and others from that period. By also appropriating commonplace images, including the Mobil gas logo and symbol in “Gold Medallion Mobil,” the artist indulges in a fascination for the highly stylized graphics of the pre-computerized advertising era. The familiarity of the pieces, created by an artist raised long after these pictures were reproduced in magazines, may cause viewers to reflect on the still pervasive influence of the culture those times produced (JoAnne Artman Gallery, Orange County).





Spelman Evans Downer, “Large Japanese Islands,” 2012, is currently on view at Soka University.



Spelman Evans Downer is a peripatetic painter, residing tri-coastally on the East Coast, West Coast and in Alaska. His lifelong love of travel, along with his interest in abstract gestural painting and photorealism, has led to his numerous paintings of maps. “The Art of Mapping” consists of five-dozen works painted over the last 30 years. Downer depicts close-up aerial versions of Manhattan and Central Park, as well as of Washington D.C., Boston, Los Angeles and European cities. “Central Orange County” (1993) depicts the county’s southern swath in agrarian looking yellows and oranges. Other works are of larger areas from higher elevations, including European countries and views of Alaska. By avoiding identifying markings, the pieces are closer to abstract paintings than actual maps. His media is primarily enamel oil used for house painting, along with pen, pencil, marker and occasionally acrylic. Several works feature mountains built up with layers of paint, while others have rivers and bays snaking through them and larger bodies of water. “Large Japanese Islands” (2012) features the islands painted texturally in gray, with the surrounding oceans in a variety of blues. “Transverse" (2008), a large horizontal depiction of an unidentified coastline, is painted so gesturally are to evoke mid-century abstract expressionist work (Soka University, Orange County).





Richard Allen Morris, “A Word from Giotto,” 1961, oil on canvas, 68 1/2 x 67 1/4”, is currently on view at RB Stevenson.



Viewing octogenarian Richard Allen Morris’ selection of “Work From the 60’s” show a young artist stretching and coming into his own. The use of materials is wide ranging — oils on cardboard, panel and canvas, wood sculpture, assemblage, mixed media collage, and ceramic sculpture. The works collectively express presumptuous energy, spirit and emotion. There are three oil and mixed media assemblage works from his signature “gun" series. Several small portraits employ distortions in color, scale, space, facial expression and brush handling to convey subjective feelings that provoke our emotions. A series of small ceramic wall sculptures are expressionistic abstract works that resemble the sensuality of painting. While paintings "Ghost Writer,” "Laying Low" and "Whitman’s Heart" are less frenetic compositions,  it is clear that Morris’  sensibility lies in his drive to express feeling, rhythm and movement. This is especially evident in the signature piece of the show: "A Word from Giotto," a large oil on canvas that showcases Morris’s skill as a painter, with all the nuances of energetic brushwork, color, line and space. The fifty-five works in this exhibition is an ambitious representation of one decade in the life of a still-prolific artist (RB Stevenson Gallery, La Jolla).


Cathy Breslaw