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June 9 - July 14, 2001 at Koplin Gallery, West Hollywood

by Suvan Geer

Norman Lundin has been painting the abstracted, light-shafted interior of his Seattle studio for decades. Over the years we have come to treasure this interior space as a purified realm of spare color, primary form and careful composition. It’s a space where cloth-draped tables, stained walls and stacked boxes suggest a rarified reality that is also a quiet metaphor for enlightened seeing through the discipline of art. It is a territory with an emotional, often melancholic sense of depopulated human presence, akin in emotional tone to the work of Edward Hopper.

This time, however, Lundin’s studio images of reflective, clear glass jars, cardboard boxes, and white ceramic coffee cups illuminated by shafts of radiant and luxurious light are pairedwith a suite of very loose, monochromatic oil on paper landscapes. The contrast in images is startling.

Like the studio still lifes, Lundin’s landscapes are repetitive horizontal compositions that feel oddly generic, even indistinguishable from one another. At the same time, however, these landscapes allude to places so hauntingly specific you stretch your mind to recollect if you have seen that exact place. It’s an effect encouraged by the warm color that suggests memory, as well as our knowledge that the thinly washed trees, bushes and telephone poles reflected in a stretch of smooth running water start out as sketches made around local rivers. Unlike his studio paintings, which translate a common room into a remarkable image, these landscapes feel more like memory than sight, opting for a mood as diffuse and quiet as the all-pervading light that floods the scene.

Norman Lundin, “River
Landing,” oil on paper,
14 x 22”, 2000.

Norman Lundin, "Simple Still Life:
Boxes, Thermos and Jar,"
acrylic on paper, 7 x 12", 1999.

Fred Stonehouse, “Dream
of a Shadow,” acrylic on
panel, 10 x 8”, 2001.

Fred Stonehouse, "Para
Siempre," acrylic on
panel, 10 x 12", 2001.
Against Lundin’s intellectualized appeals to calmness, the paintings of Milwaukee artist Fred Stonehouse read like a rousing hellfire rant from the pulpit. This exhibition, entitled Penance, is a moral tutorial in the spirit of 14th- and 15th-century Italian church fresco painters who made the pain of damnation look vividly disagreeable, yet wildly entertaining for the illiterate masses.

Stonehouse’s saints and sinners are often a loaded mixture of bestial and human. Oddly complacent with their doomed lot, they spew water, exhale visionary “breath” or cartoony word balloons, while ambiguous foreign language banners unfurl. It’s a weirdly familiar mixture of advertising imagery and political or historic references. Stonehouse tosses together the playful enticement of a sideshow carnival poster, plus seductive, folkish, but more serious religious iconography found in Catholic missions and altarpieces.

All this irreverent reverence evokes a strange brew of feelings in the viewer. A case in point is French Devil with it’s impassive, blue-suited devil of a business man. He stands rooted in flame and holding onto a banner bearing a French expression that reads in a reversed text, “Go look outside and see if I’m there;” or in the vernacular, “Get lost.” As in other images we have to push aside traditional religious information about evil (or sanctity) to enter Stonehouse’s world of sin and reparation. The mirror writing on this devil’s banner can be taken as a meaning reversal, a warning sign turned open enticement to hell, exhorting, like a travel brochure, the thrill of losing our way on the high road. In another painting the same text written correctly on a banner surrounding a cassock-clothed saint, reads as a mystical invitation from God asking that we look for the Divine everywhere and indeed lose ourselves in it. Such are the ambiguous ways of sin and salvation as Stonehouse presents them.