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December, 2001

An exhilarating selection of longtime New Yorker William Scharf’s paintings of the last two decades prove how seemingly easy it is for grand mental spaces to escape the confines of a little studio. The high romantic gesture that crescendos through this body of work gathers momentum and humanity as you move through it. Bach’s organ could be piped in to accompany this stuff, full as it is with ascending color notes and celestial light. This is religiously felt art appropriated into a strictly secular context. Scharf is a product of the New York School (at one time he worked as Mark Rothko’s studio assistant) who found his way to pictorial abstraction by favoring imaginative line more than he feared associative readings. Indeed, the endlessly poetic titles, which extend even to the smallest works on paper, push evocations that are right there in the work.

William Scharf, “An Asgardian Again,”
acrylic on board, 12 1/4 x 14 7/8”, 1994-95.
In Stigmata of the Thorns the red and orange “crown” pops right out at you. Cerebration bangs out intellectual order and celebratory noise keyed in a startling palette of pinks and yellows. The color of the referenced form in Above the Milk Sphynx props up the lower half of a pitch-dark space, while fluorescent ghosts snake their way up and out the top. Repetitious use of devices such as blastula-like arrangements of spheres, curvy intestinal tubes, and negative spaces outlined to be seen as positive shapes become too self-conscious at times, but that’s picking at a good thing. They provide an obsessive ground in a restless universe that works because the vision risks losing its moorings. You get to know it, but have no idea where Scharf will take you next (Pepperdine University, Malibu).

Joseph Maruska makes abstract paintings in which delicate colors and gestural strokes merge to create images suggestive of landscape. The numerous paintings on view in the main gallery range in size and intensity, yet all are achievements of deft skill and careful observation. In the side gallery, Patssi Valdez continues with her representational works of interior spaces in which the perspective is skewed and distorted. These colorful works call to mind Van Gogh's interiors, though Valdez' approach is more cartoon-like than impressionistic (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Joseph Maruska, "Fishskin No. 1,"
oil on masonite, 16 x 16", 2001.

Here is New York is a politically correct, conceptually on-top-of-it show. It functions as a form of catharsis to deal with the bizarre and troubling events of September 11th. Laying aside--as most hand-held, on the fly photography is wont to do--any distinctions between high and low art, the gallery invited everyone and anyone who took a snapshot to submit photos in any format chronicling the World Trade Center disaster. All are hung like a huge collage, marking human tragedy and human hope, while smartly commenting on the unique way that our media driven documents --through repetition, melodrama, and reification--provide us with instant meaning and contemporary mythology (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Richard Rutkowski, "September
11, 2001", photograph.

DeLoss McGraw,"Alice's
Evidence", gouache on
paper, 11 x 9 1/2", 1999.
Painting for "Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland", Harper
Collins, New York.
DeLoss McGraw has been delighting us with his whimsical, magical figures since the 1980s. In large-scale steel they scurry up ladders in front of corporate buildings city-wide (Wilshire near Barrington); in watercolors they take the form of insousiant angels, creatures out of folks tales. The figurative style that is his alone calls to mind the drawings by the kids that you pin to your refrig but is in fact ultrasophisticated literature driven art. Crossing back and forth between his metier as artist and children’s book illustrator, here we are treated to his amazingly well conceived and executed vision of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Harper and Collins publishes a new edition of Alice in Wonderland with his original illustrations of a flaxen haired, pensive Alice and a whimsical March Hare tumbling weightlessly through color and light (Skidmore Contemporary Art, Malibu).

This is a fourth and very successful solo show for Marina Day, and there is undeniable maturity and mastery of her means. The current assemblage and collage works still use carefully appropriated and hand-altered found junk, antique images culled from old books, turn of the century school primers and the like. The growing compositional sophistication is bracing. Her fascination with maps and diagrams--as visual analogues and as symbolic icons of finding our way--continues. In two really magnificent canvases Day subtly suggests the the left and right sides of creativity and brain function: our senses and our reason. The theme of childlike, unedited wonder runs through all of Day’s work. Antique science diagrams of the inner eye and inner ear are collaged, hand altered and imbedded into molten virtuoso fields of paint. The vascular system of the eye reaches and churns to make this vast expanse, and the socket sits like a pristine orb at the hub of an expanding cosmos (Don O’Melveny Gallery, West Hollywood).

Marina Day, "This is My Flag,"
mixed media, 36 x 67", 2001.

Patty Wickman, "Summons,"
o/c, 96 x 94", 2000/01.
Patty Wickman's beautiful new works apparently relate stories of the everyday. A girl standing in a rowboat in Summons seems to be lecturing others while oblivious to a large wave approaching. A man in his garden rears up from the digging he is doing to gaze intently off to one side. The light traces of pencil palimpsest and the watercolor palette she uses reinforce the impression of life studies intent on representing the prosaic nature of the world. Closer attention, however, reveals the significant detail that these works are all taken from biblical tales. Small anomalies begin to differentiate the first impression. Possibly the girl is delivering a sermon, and the man is enraptured and about to leave behind the multitude of animals inhabiting the garden? In the end, a subtle insinuation of biblical readings within the texture of the ordinary is achieved with grace and depth (Hunsaker Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Blue McRight's display of light sculptures, Lumina, take over the darkened gallery space by projecting slowly revolving moiré light patterns out over the four walls. The space itself becomes the canvas on which these evolving abstract forms are momentarily painted in light. Lamp sculptures are plant-like forms made from metal rods, screening material and small light bulbs. The bulbous forms hang from the ceiling, emerge from the gallery floor and are vivaciously animated. There are two sorts of serpentine enclosures which house the glowing lights. Most are free form, open mesh coils that hang down from the ceiling. A few are "skin" sheathed, closed mesh constructions which rise gently off the ground. Investigating the sensibility present within an odd combination of sci-fi dread and pseudo-sixties light show euphoria, McRight ends up fashioning a strange new land indeed (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

Blue McRight, "Corona" (detail), aluminum
and halogen lamps, 28 x 6' each, 2001.

Christian Möller, "dePictured, a
Bitwall Installation" (detail),
mixed media, 2001.
Christian Möller's dePictured, a Bitwall Installation is overwhelming in its technical description: that it is the analogous, spatialized version of a bitmap image created by alternating empty or white space with informational space or black cards is as daunting as the works thus created are compelling. What initially appears to be digital work is actually an analogue installation made from foam pieces that represent the actual pixels of digital images. Since the images rely on light and shadow, the more contrast in the image the clearer the reproduction. The pieces begin as photographs of German prison inmates. These are then digitized and turned into bitmaps. The bitmaps are then cut out of foam and assembled onto boards, creating the illusion of an image. When the light casts a shadow the image appears. In the installation the large images are hung next to each other, thus creating a frieze around the room. The physicalization of these information structures is haunting, and given their large scale they become entrancing. The clarity of connection between the physical byproducts of this visualization process and the conceptual basis from which they are drawn is a heartening step towards a truly conceptual art form (Art Center College, Pasadena).

Eric Niebuhr is given his Los Angeles debut exhibition here. His large, sparse paintings feel like they were designed on a computer. Representational images are run through filters that allow the images to disintegrate but still hold their shape. Niebuhr transfers these shapes to the canvas, painting the areas with varying textures of pastel color. The result is a series of enigmatic paintings that refer to and suggest imagery yet remain in the realm of abstraction (Goldman Tevis, Downtown).