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July/August, 2002

Gary Eugene Jefferson, “Frivolous
Meditations,” 2001, a/c, 78 x 82”.
Credentialed, talented, clearly well versed in Art History, yet under-represented (as are most qualified African American painters), Gary Eugene Jefferson shows large, troubling, and effective paintings that illuminate how certain pasts are inescapable for their effects. In For Countless Spirits Whose Dreams Remain on the Ocean's Floor, watery paint bleeds over heavily outlined, jagged images of slaves, scientists, mothers, a shackled activist and countless innocents. Themes embrace civil rights, women's rights and African American culture, all addressed incisively in ambitious works that blend the ponderous dark outlines of German Expressionism, the free form surfaces of Abstract Expressionism, and a clear respect for draftsmanship. Jefferson has been shown widely in Florence, Italy, in Copenhagen, Denmark and in New York City; it is well worth including this artist’s presence here (M. Hanks Gallery, Santa Monica).

Shrines and rituals bridge Western and non-Western art traditions in post-modern art. They co-mingle high art and street art, span kitsch and spirituality, and somehow call up Everyman's/woman's instinctual desire to create and commemorate. Just recall the makeshift shrines at car accidents or the truckloads of snapshots and flowers after Princess Di's death. Jil Weinstock makes provocative, smart works that can be thought of as conceptual shrines. Carefully tucked, pinched and folded garments that belonged to her mother and grandmother --mostly intimate things like nightgowns--are encased inside shellac-like rubber armatures. Looking though this opaque finish at such delicate and intimate things makes you feel like a nostalgic voyeur. Our reactions will be gender mediated; women can't help but look at this work with a kind of knowing, while men will have a wholly different response. She achieves the same effect with pearls randomly embedded in similar armatures and looking like constellations. Your first instinct is to call this work feminist, but in fact such a label is limiting. Nostalgic and fragile, the works seem like a form of ancestor worship, a way the artist connects with her roots. Placed and arranged with such remarkable care, they also become the lushest of surface work, sheer process finery for its own sake. Finally, in the subtlest of ways these works are post-modern takes on the old Dutch concept of vanitas: clearly aged, the surfaces and the objects from which they are constructed remind us of the mystique of youth, of youth fading and returning as some deepened vision that transforms beauty into something else (frumkin/duval gallery, Santa Monica).

Jil Weinstock, "Summer," 2002,
zippers and rubber, 24 x 48 x 1".

The digital photography works in Situated Realities: Where Technology and Imagination Intersect function to unnerve the viewer and to displace your sense of the natural with regard to the truth of a photographic representation. These digital manipulations, which work counter current to the history of photography as a forensic and historical tool, run the gamut from the grotesquely unreal to the subtlety of the surreal. The general level of technical accomplishment is also worth studying for hints of what is to come from these techniques (Art Center College, Williamson Gallery, Pasadena).

Margi Geerlinks, "Gepetto (man sewing)," 1999,
Cibachrome print, 49 x 70".

As the parameters of one time constants like Beauty and Truth, gender, class and reason stretch and morph like Saran Wrap, one thing still seems to preoccupy us and that is our relationship to nature, to mother Earth or Gaia. Art has a tough time contending with this subject because it has been so over-mined by the old Academy, and so banalized by the Sunday amateur art sale that it is hard for artists to make landscape compelling and even harder for savvy viewers to be moved by its image.

John Virtue, "Landscape No. 654," 1999-2001,
acrylic/shellac/emulsion on canvas, 66 x 132".
Enter John Virtue with his grand landscapes made from emulsion, shellac and sooty acrylic on canvas. Virtue has been at this for a long time, and the good news is that he just gets better at it. Like a convincing and intelligent Rorschach, these swaths of incandescent open space hovering behind, dancing over and enveloping smudges of dark pigment coalesce into tall poplars and moody forests. They call up Walden and remind us very effectively that there is still one thing not subject to semiotics: our visceral ties to the land (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Frances Stark’s works here are from a series entitled The Unspeakable Compromise of the Portable Work of Art. These 16 pieces explore the relationship between an artist’s work and the place that exhibits them. Using Daniel Buren’s 1971 essay The Function of the Studio as her point of departure, Stark’s sculptures, drawings, and documentation convincingly investigate the mutability of a work of art. As dense and layered as her works may be, they succeed on both visual and formal levels (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Frances Stark, "Number 7 in a series of 16," , from the series "The Unspeakable Compromise of the Portable Work of Art," 1998, carbon on rice paper, tissue, and linen tape.
Photo: Brian Forrest.

The late Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000) photographed both people and the landscape. His high contrast graphic representations of plowed fields shot from above or across are icons in the history of documentation of the landscape. His more urban images capture people going about their daily business unaware that they exist in a perfectly framed composition. A prolific photographer throughout his long career, Giacomelli was a master at creating emotionally charged and seductive images of his people and his country (Paul Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Mario Giacomelli, from the "Buona Terra" series,
1964-65, gelatin silver print, 11 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Chris Johanson makes wacky installations out of low tech materials like cardboard, wood, paper, and paint. For this exhibition he creates an elaborate labyrinth, a maze-like configuration that forms a narrow path for viewers to follow. Playful and colorful figures dance through the installation, hung on the walls of the maze as individual works, delighting in the metaphorical chaos of the urban environment. His works are cartoon-like in style yet address real world social and political conditions. Johanson injects his work with an ironic wit and sense of humor, making pieces that are simultaneously humorous and critical (Roberts & Tilton Gallery, West Hollywood).

Chris Johanson, "Untitled (Heads)"
2002, acrylic on birch panel, 60" x 60"

Ricky Swallow is an Australian-born artist now living in Los Angeles. A master craftsman, he creates remarkably realistic sculptures chiseled out of blocks of wood. Swallow’s work is as much about process--chiseling, scraping and sanding to create a perfect surface--as it is about the finished product. The sculptures that make up the exhibition, entitled Wooden Problem, seem to have magically emerged from the core. Swallow’s sculpted objects--a bird’s nest in a shoe, an applecore on a stool, a skull and a bust--are carved to scale. The cumulative effect is to create intriguing relationships when seen as a group (Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, West Hollywood).

Ricky Swallow, "Come Together," 2002,
laminated Jelutong (hardwood), 26 x 25 x 32".

Jack Goldstein, “Untitled,”
1981, painting of antiaircraft fire.
The large paintings Jack Goldstein created in the1980’s became icons of a certain type of art practice. Goldstein was one of a number of artists who then used appropriationist strategies and embraced the dialogue around post-modernism. Probably more associated with ground-breaking work in performance, film and sound works, he suddenly ceased creating new art in 1991. The flat and colorful paintings brought together for this exhibition particularly explore the subject of spectacle. Using an airbrush, Goldstein and his assistants removed any trace of the artist’s hand. The images of astronauts, an eclipse, volcanic activity, as well as the weapons’ fire of warfare come from media sources that have been skillfully transferred to large canvases. The resulting works are filmic and dynamic paintings that can be appreciated not only for the time and the context in which they were made, but are also clearly influencing many painters working today (CSU Los Angeles, Luckman Art Gallery, East Los Angeles).

Cadence Giersbach is a New York-based painter whose brightly colored works treat vernacular subjects. Birds and planes literally move from the canvas to the wall. Entitled Somewhere, the places depicted here seem familiar but could be anywhere. To make her works Giersbach first begins with a photograph. The photographs are digitized and the image is allowed to dissolve into areas of broad color. These color patches are then painted on the canvas, creating works that hover between abstraction and representation. In two works the patterns within the painting move from the canvas and spread out on the gallery wall, fostering an illusion that the work could go on forever (Sandroni Rey, Venice).

Cadence Giersbach, "Flores," 2002,
enamel on wood panel, 60 x 60".

Maddy Le Mel's exhibition Holding on, Letting go consists of ambitious, large and medium scale works done in mixed materials such as steel, text and cast paper. The overall theme that she traces is of loss and of the fragility of existence. Particularly eloquent were the installations of a floating kimono and luminous room suspended under the open gallery atrium. Sandra Morley's digital/photographic color studies are sumptuous abstractions drawn from film work done at various desert sites and then pushed in its focus and color through the power of digital printing. Evident in her work is a strong sense of debt to earlier American Modernists such as Edward Weston (Brand Library Art Gallery, Glendale).

Maddy Le Mel, "Unarmed," 2000, mixed media, 38 x 38 x 9".