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(1) Jorge Santos, "Private Rituals", acrylic and pencil on board, 21 x 29". Photo: Bill McLemore Photography.
(2) Jorge Santos, "Another Plea for Excuses", acrylic and pencil on board.
(3) Paton Miller "Ring That Bell", o/c, 50 x 65".


by Todd Baron

(Horwitch Newman Gallery, hosted by Koplin Gallery, Santa Monica [Ed. note--Although a hosted exhibition, this is not a part of the L.A. International series]) Realism can be at once both disturbing and calming: Often the mere representation of what passes for reality can seduce us into thinking we know the world we are viewing. But Jorge Santos' work is a circus-nightmare turned upside down in its underlying and quietly distressing nature. This realism is deceptively cool and sedate. The characters who inhabit his world are calm and collected, distressfully so as we witness the carefully rendered characters' odd detachment from his or her surroundings and the moments they seem "caught" between. These paintings freeze each moment in an overtly dream-like reality created in a precisely realistic way. As with De Chirico and Balthus, it's both those moments are rendered and what they eflect that is most distressing.

The surface of these acrylic and pencil works are like snapshots of characters from a recognizably surrealistic world: A bemused clown; a little girl in a birthday hat; a sleeping figure on a flight of stairs. As one delves deeper into the carefully rendered images the agitation gathers. The clown struggles with his straitjacket; the girl is about to blow out an unlit candle held by a grey-suited man; and the sleeping figure is lying in front of a starkly red spray painted target near a pair of detached costume wings. It's this stark realism, the carefully penciled figures, that creates a surface calm, while both the content and the composition are so unsettling.

In I Recognize Your Face the girl in the party hat stands in front of a counter which partially conceals the grey-suited man. Behind him, at an Escher-like angle in an open cardboard box, stands a grey-skinned nude figure, bald and wearing a floppy straw hat, back turned towards the viewer. The fact that the man holding the candle has one hand behind his back reeks of so much dangerously hidden promise. His halfhearted grimace seems to hide some real and more menacing emotion, like that of a child-molester holding out candy to his prey.

Another Plea For Excuses features an apparently happy nude, again greyskinned, and dressed only in top hat and a dangling black mask. A faucet juts out of the floorboards of the otherwise equally bare room, attached to a string held by the model. The persona and genderofthis and othernudes in Santos' painting remains a mystery. Their headgear adds a theatrical texture to these superficially serene but quietly anguished tableaux.

The subjects of Paton Miller's painterly fields are antithetical to Santos'. They are thickly layered and read like palimpsests whose original imagery lies buried. Most works feature a growling or struggling dog who seems to either be protecting the human figures in the work or simply snarling at them. Their ambiguity between the domesticated "man's best friend" and attacking wild beast is suggestive of the duality between comfort and fear that thematically runs through this work.

Robert Van Vranken's assemblagelike paintings build out from a central core which contains a seemingly allegorical form. Surrounding imagery references art historical or literary sources ranging from Flemish portraits to William Carlos Williams.