(1) "Twelve Bar at the Five Four," o/c, 53 x 43", 1995.
(2) "Alone Together", o/c, 53" x 78", 1995.
(3) "Shake Your Moneymaker," o/c, 52 x 78", 1995.
(4) "Barflies", o/c, 53 x 78", 1995.
(Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica) With a new series of oil-pastel works and oil-on-canvas paintings collectively titled L.A. Blues Scene veteran Los Angeles artist Randye Sandel has extended her explorations into the nature of light and atmosphere. The oil paintings are significantly larger than the oil pastels but the end result and the effect of Sandel's work in both these media are the same. Her vision is about nothing so much as the ambiance of the scene depicted. Her artistic forebears are most obviously the Impressionist painters such us Seurat, Degas and Monet. But Sandel has taken her study of light and atmosphere beyond the efforts of those visionary predecessors.
Though the L.A. Blues works depict scenes inhabited by the denizens of the night life and afficianados of blues music, the paintings are not about the people and really not even about the music or the locales themselves. Sandel has taken this smoky club environment only as a starting point for her visual inquiry into the nature of the kind of light, the very air itself, which quite dispassionately invests these venues with a subterranean anonymity. The works are not narratives. Where they might focus on a particular instant or interaction between the people depicted, they address instead the action of light on a wall with a muted array of secondary and tertiary colors as opposed to the strong emotionality that primary colors convey.
Take the oil pastel piece titled B.B. & Lucille, for example, This work is not about legendary blues musician B.B King or his famous guitar Lucille. King has his back to us. We can't see his face and certainly nothing of his musical instrument. But we have a wonderful view of how the overhead light falls on his shoulders and how people listening to the musician are merged into the atmospheric light.
In most of the paintings the people depicted have their backs to us, including the musicians at work. The compositions, though realistic, emphasize the interplay of massed forms and quite impersonally depict the most banal of moments as if the artist herself was not even present at the time the image was captured. She is obviously concerned with something completely abtract and intent on extracting it from both the narrative and representational "content" of the scene. That abstract something is the air between objects, the silence between the notes, and those instances when nothing, as opposed to something, is happening. Then the artist is free to address those visual issues which truly fascinate her.
The Regular is a perfect example of the representational aspect of the scene merging into something completely abstract. The forms of the solitary drinker at the bar and the environment are rendered with a soft edge. The absence of definition is striking, revealing quite accurately the painter's true concerns.
The large painting Alone Together conveys the sense of anonymity that the artist has captured. The isolation of the people seen in the painting is evident, but it is depicted in a matter-of-fact manner. The painting's inhabitants seem to have as much company as they apparently desire. And Sandel records the scene as an invisible eye that appears to be devoid of emotion.
This quality must be much like the solace that the solitary inhabitant of the dimly lit tavern derives from the smoky embrace of the atmosphere upon first entering. And in this Sandel is fully successful. The L.A. Blues paintings are a completely realized addendum to a long series of works on modern art history where the artist, as an invisibly anonymous spectator and historian of a public scene, preserves its atmosphere, something of the ambient life of a milieu, for successive generations to view, ponder and experience in the flesh long after that venue has passed into oblivion.
From the 19th century cafes of Paris, to the opera and ballet, to the New York jazz clubs of the 1950's, to the L.A. Blues paintings of Randye Sandel there is on invaluable historical record of how public places felt and appeared to the eye (as opposed to the camera). It is a record that only a painter, experiencing the place in the flesh itself, can construct.