|Palm trees and cars, paintings, works on paper and large assemblages, dominate this exhibition of new works by Frank Romero. Iconic images and metaphors long associated with his thirty-year relationship with the Los Angeles urban landscape, they are pivotal to the narrative he has created as a muralist, painter and sculptor. In this exhibition however, Romero utilizes both composition and palette to isolate these images, as if underscoring their importance as figurative symbols within his body of work. Palm trees and cars are after all, among the quintessential images of Los Angeles. Romero presents them here with an awareness of both their ironic and historical meaning.
In a series of paintings of Fan Palms, flat compositions explore a rectilinear, quasi-minimalist language through the vertical and horizontal lines of the trees and the sky, along with the added dimension of representation: the image of seven palm trees outlined against a sky is the subject matter of the entire series. A rigorous palette is maintained throughout the entire sequence of paintings, all executed in tones of red, turquoise, black and grayish-green. Romero seems to be exploring a static and dynamic rhythm of elements with the repetitive compositional lines on the one hand, and color and light on the other. While the color and light shifts from work to work evoking a shift in time (perhaps morning, noon and night), the concept of space--that is the composition and representation of the palm trees themselves--remains static, caught in a permanent timelessness. In these Romero offers an ironic commentary on the rigid omnipresence of palm trees in the ever-changing L.A. urban skyline.
In his car images Romero has long explored the same territory. His painted cars are a contradiction in terms; these are static, nostalgic and quasi-cartoon-like representations of the revered Los Angeles symbol of mobility. Underscoring the ironic and witty dimensions of these immobile images, he applies coat upon coat of paint as if to deepen the representational relationship between the image and the real object. A three-dimensional car aglow with coats of paint and neon wheels is a case in point, as the wheels seem to be moving even though the immobility of the fabricated representation reminds you that this is simply an illusion. In these jalopies and lowriders Romero constructs images of a remembered past, in which the flatness of the image, the cartoon-like rendering draws veiled references to the comics of yesterday (a kind of Maggie and Jiggs image comes to mind), reminding you that what was is no more.
This nostalgia, this evocation and sense of longing is a key to Romero's ongoing conflict between, on the one hand, an ironic and distanced view that is somewhat Pop in spirit, and the emotion and affection that these icons represent for the artist on the other. There has always been a strong awareness of a fifties and sixties take, with its objectification of the ordinary and a firm handle on the rhetorical use of kitsch, in Romero's work. It was, after all, an aesthetic and an era that Romero experienced first hand while living in New York. But the artist's personal history, his deep involvement with Los Angeles, particularly East Los Angeles, with the Chicano art experience, Frogtown and Echo Park, creates an emotional bond with these objects that collides with Pop's slick, cool distance. Consequently, Romero's work falls away from caricature and irony, caught as it is in the proximity of feeling between the artist and the object represented.