(1) "From Venom to Serum", oil/acrylic/cloth on wood panel,
48 x 96", 1982. Courtesy Rosamund Felsen Gallery.
(2) "Where the Soul Intact Will Shed Its Scabs (8624 A.D.)", acrylic on wood panel, 96 x 192", 1987-88. Courtesy the Eli Broad Family Foundation, Santa Monica.
(3) "This Wholesomeness, Beloved and Despised, Continues Regardless", acrylic/enamel on wood panel, 128 x 96", 1990.
(4) "A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation #1," acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 96 x 256", 1992. Courtesy the collection of Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann.
by Jody Zellen
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
West Hollywood) Lari Pittman's works sing. They dance. They celebrate. They
are densely layered and highly decorative canvases where silhouettes come
alive, candles drip and intricate filigree weaves the elements together.
In this mid-career survey thirty-five works spanning the last fifteen years
have been assembled that chronologically trace his development.
In the early 1980's Pittman's paintings were spare with large swaths of color. Intersected juxtapositions and tensions were created both through form and implied content. A narrative was suggested but not articulated. Recognizable elements were submerged in abstraction. For example, in the large painting "From Venom to Serum" (1982) the canvas was divided into two sections. On the left half the background is a deep red. On the right it is a golden brown. Decorative elements outlined in black fill each of these spaces and begin to converse with one another. They intrude into each others' space from the edges. The title refers to both good and evil, cause and effect, themes that Pittman continues to investigate in his current works. A painting from 1986, "Out of the Frost," also sits on the border between abstraction and representation. Amidst the geometric shapes are the beginnings of recognizable forms.
The later works contain narratives. Recognizable elements are combined with abstract forms. Text often punctuates the work, offering solace or . uttering a command. Pittman uses a specific vocabulary of symbols that change with each body of work. Each painting is a complex composition that weaves together a network of lines, shapes and symbols. The works are both archaeological sites and decorative masterpieces.
Pittman draws from many sources to create his finished works. He is interested in the history of decorative arts, specifically the history of wall paper and textile design, and uses elements from these disciplines in his paintings. His works combine gestures and icons from many time periods. Series have contained the image of an owl, painted with an exacting degree of detail, silhouettes of a rat, as well as the silhouetted images of both Victorian men and woman. Recent paintings have featured the image of a television screen, a Pinocchio-like character, as well as the Mastercard and Visa logos. Pittman often combines these iconic images with fragments of text or specific utterances including the symbol '69,' or 'R.l.P,' and 'S.O.S.'
The paintings are about universal themes as well as more personal issues. They refer to sex and death and AIDS and homosexuality, yet the works are never depressing or morose. His works are brightly colored and densely populated. At times Pittman builds up the paint into a textured surface, but more often than not the paintings are flat--and that is their appeal.
Each painting contains a narrative, some more explicit than others. Because the works are so densely populated with images and designs they ask to be read and cry out for closure. In "A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation #1," (1992) the narrative structure becomes evident. A Pinocchio-like figure holds a sign that states 'Hey' in the far left panel of the painting. Decorative elements that include swishing lines over circular dots lead viewers' eyes to another sign that has the letters 'F.Y.' The next element in this narrative is a noose, then a sign stating 'S.O.S.,' a tree and then the upside-down Pinocchio figure holding the final 'R.l.P' sign. Although the narrative suggested by this painting is not a happy one, the way in which it has been painted is still celebratory.
In all of Pittman's works, the bad is combined with the good leaving it up to the viewers to construct the final balance.
Pittman paints with such elegance and determination that no matter what the subject--loss, death, sex, or desire--each painting is a celebration. A celebration of the act of painting and of survival, both of which are such integral aspects of Pittman's life that they have become the subject of his paintings.