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by Mario Cutajar

David Lloyd, "Untitled," oil/
acrylic on canvas, 80 x 90"

David Lloyd, "The Story
Continues", oil/acrylic on
canvas, 76 x 86".

“Untitled", acrylic/
canvas, 36 x 24"
(Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach) As genres go, abstraction has had to struggle with a peculiar internal conflict in that it started life as part of a romantic, modernist project to eradicate the very idea of genre and ended up illustrating the transformation of modernism itself into a genre. With the fervor of people who’ve been released from a bad marriage and have discovered true love, the early abstractionists celebrated their emancipation from painting’s representational obligations by claiming to have discovered the El Dorado of the sublime. Later on the abstract expressionists injected some good old American manly vigor into what might otherwise have remained an effete European endeavor and turned the whole thing into a pissing contest.

By the time they ran dry, the expectation of heroic results had become such an engrained part of the meaning of abstraction that it was difficult to imagine it continuing outside the heroic narrative. In the intervening period, the notion of abstraction as genre has elicited a variety of responses, ranging from outright denial to camp parody.

When, several years ago, I encountered David Lloyd's work for the first time I was dazzled by its theatricality and baffled by what seemed like a combination of hyperdecorative excess and emotional vacancy. At that time, his paintings were aggressive, blobby, tutti-frutti constructions replete with frothy eruptions of polyurethane foam that took over the gallery space and turned it into a trippy, surrealist jungle. In retrospect, I recognize that what I perceived as an absence of affect in the work was actually the absence of the kind of ponderous existential drama that one has come to expect from anything even distantly related to abstract expressionism. Instead, having dispensed with the psychological baggage, Lloyd was gleefully exploring abstraction as sensory indulgence: painting as a rave drug.

Since then, having proved that he can pile on the thrills and spills with the dexterity of a painterly Spielberg, the artist has returned to something more closely resembling painting as we know it. For awhile he was doing paintings that hovered indecisively between straightforward biomorphism and surrealist cartooning.

The ten new paintings here seem tame in comparison to what Lloyd was doing a few years back. They're also, for the most part rather small. One gets the sense that he's playing out a dialectic between three-dimensional excess and flat simplicity to see what he can achieve in the way of presence when he deliberately limits himself to purely painterly means. The pictorial spaces in the new paintings are quite shallow. Everything seems to take place on the surface. A recurring motif that recalls Albers's square-within-a-square paintings is played off in several of the smaller paintings against shapes that are occasionally suggestive of marine life and others that look like cloisonnéd tetrahedral truss frames.

The largest, most pictorially ambitious, and successful painting, The Story Continues, has an ochre-ish, thinly pigmented, atmospheric background reminiscent of NASA photographs of the Sahara seen from space. This serves as a foil for flat fields of pink and red, and several patterned, candy-colored shapes strewn about the surface. The effect is of a collage rendered as a painting. As the most perverse and chromatically aggressive of the paintings in this show it is also the one painting that establishes the clearest link between the old and new body of work. The story does indeed continue.

Simultaneous with the Lloyd show, the gallery has on display a selection of new Tony DeLap paintings and mostly older drawings. The paintings are actually highly sophisticated constructions that manage to extract a wealth of subtle detail from beguilingly simple geometric shapes.

Tony Delap, "The
Honest Ace", stretched
canvas/wood/acrylic, 1996.