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January, 2003

Frank Lloyd Wright, “Prototype
Window,” 1902-04, drawing.
It should come as no surprise that Frank Lloyd Wright also did windows. The celebrated leader of organic architecture was notorious for putting his mark on every detail that went into the buildings he designed. A beautifully mounted show of approximately fifty leaded glass windows that were incorporated into structures designed by Wright from early in his career until 1923 reveals the architect’s creative genius as well as his ability to transform elements found in Japanese construction into his own signature works of art. After being introduced to Japanese architecture at the Chicago International Exposition in 1893, Wright began to fashion abstract leaded glass panels that performed some of the same functions as shoji screens.
The windows invited light into Wright’s open plan homes, linking the buildings to their site while acting as transparent barriers to the outdoor elements. The architect played asymmetrically balanced shapes and abstracted natural forms against linear components placed with just enough degree of separation to spark fragments of colored glass, forming an amazing variety of lively compositions (OCMA, Newport Beach, Orange County).

Phil Bower’s strong show puts him at the forefront of Los Angeles painters. With a steady solo exhibition record on both coasts (in New York with Spencer Brownstone Gallery), he has spent the past half-decade tackling the space wherein photographic reproduction submits to the unique power of painting. For Bower this is neither the self-impressed dexterity of Gerhard Richter’s cold renditions (although Bower’s rendering skills are in a league with Richter’s), nor is it a belief in some latent spirituality exploding from painter’s pigment. Bower’s selection of subject matter is fixated on historical and found photos that carry epic and specific historical references; from World Wars to 1981 punk rock nightclub raids by the always fascistic LAPD.

Phil Bower, "1928," 2002,
oil on linen, 59 x 78".

Bower's unique point of painterly departure occurs because his master rendering of historic photos (each titled with the simple 4-digit year of the photo the painting is based on) is but an opening act for his painterly pixelations that layer these works with patterned beauty and semiotic sophistication. A charging World War I flank of three infantrymen is rescued from grainy black & white familiarity by highlighting each in primary color. A beautiful meditation on Mondrian is from the same year that his drastic reductive painting was ocurring. The subtle stream of amusing relationships is steady without ever seeming too clever, never overpowering Bower’s gorgeous palette and composition (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

Andrea Zittel, the Joshua Tree setting
on "A-Z Regenerating Field" project.
For the past year artist Andrea Zittel has resided in her home/workshop in the desert of Joshua Tree in order to explore new models to produce and present art. The so called A-Z Regenerating Field was a test ground where Zittel experimented with making things from paper waste. Making objects from shredded newspapers and other paper products was a long and arduous process. Plastic molds were fabricated for the objects, which are then filled with the pulp and allowed to dry in the desert sun.
The resulting objects are on display here (the artist has also been maintaining a weekend “open house” policy for the run of the show--ask the gallery for directions). The colorless panels and garments are the first products of Zittel’s endeavors. While they are minimal in form, the story of their process and production is engrossing (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Texturologies, a solo exhibit by Roger Weik, is comprised of 40 works on canvas and paper based on his experimentations with several kinds of pigments combined with heavily impastoed layers of silicone. The mostly monochromatic pieces are particularly effective when the layers of silicone are ephemeral, luminous rather than dense. In some instances Weik invents a form of hieroglyphs that he suspends over washes of delicate pastel hues of blues, purples, greens and mauves. While there are several outstanding works along these lines, and at least three elegant monochromatic and richly textured diptychs, the show would have benefited from tighter editing ([seven-degrees], Orange County).

Roger Weik,."Convergence," 2002,
copolymer emulsion and
pigments on canvas, 40 x 30".

Dori and Joseph DeCamillis, "Gas,
Food, Lodging, Lake City, Florida,"
2002, oil on copper, 4 x 6".
There is just something to size in artwork--when very large, we are awestruck; when very small we want to examine every detail. Dori and Joseph DeCamillis travel through L.A'.s romping, endless freeways, alleys and busy streets taking snapshots. These they translate into exquisite little paintings often no larger than 2 or 3 inches. When the frenzy of tinseltown gets concentrated this way, a jewel like calm and beauty sets in. The same paintings and compositional decisions would not have equal impact in large scale; here small size is the right size (frumkin/duvall gallery, Santa Monica).

The political poster has a long association with the advent of Modernism: stark, graphic social realist images hawked democratic, anti-elite art forms and spoke to Utopian governments in Europe and Mexico in the early twentieth century. Further, the political poster--whether you find yourself to the left or the right--reminds us that since its inception art has been the handmaiden to all forms of free thought. All this is called to mind in a pretty great show of political posters made over the last fifty years. The gallery makes no bones about its stand in this issue via the curatorial selections, exhibition rhetoric, and the show's very title, The Anti-War Show: The Price of Intervention: From Korea to Iraq. Again, irrespective of your views, to see quality vintage posters that reference U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq is a treat for historical perspective as well as for sheer visual pleasure (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Mark Bradford, "C'mon Shorty," 2002,
permanent end wave papers, xerox
paper and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 84".
Mark Bradford’s abstract paintings are becoming more elegant and sophisticated. Each painting collages colored xerox paper--in pastel tones of green and orange with hair end-papers used for permanents (Bradford works as a hair stylist and likes to employ products associated with the beauty industry in his work). The edges of the permanent wave papers are burnt, becoming line on the canvas. Bradford draws from the styles of minimalism and the works of Agnes Martin and Brice Marden to create his own unique style. The surfaces dance as fragments of colored and wave paper intersect. Bradford also collages text from flyers and other xeroxed ephemera into the works. The resulting paintings are complex layerings of abstract elements and cultural artifacts. The works, while rooted in the tradition of abstract minimalism, also take a political and sociological stand (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

The meticulous watercolors of Frederick Brosen may be called photorealistic, but their visual liquidity touches the eye in a painterly fashion. Does the urban grittiness, or alternatively, European flavored charm of these street views and building façades compete with the visual fascination of all the accumulated detail? You bet, but that seems to be precisely the point. Even as you settle in Brosen politely pulls out the rug. Consider too that these portraits of New York City, population and energy center of the nation, are silently devoid of human presence. This does not come across as a “what if” sci-fi scenario, but an effort to either extract or confer identity to a singular physical environment (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Frederick Brosen, "Washington and Four-
teenth," 1999, watercolor on paper, 22 x 32".

There is a long if dated tradition of "finding the form" in non-representational, abstract work. Spontaneous looking gestural work that deals with the human figure, headed up by no less than DeKooning, fell out of favor more quickly, perhaps because we are hard wired to associate quality in figuration with clarity of execution and draftsmanship. Patti Meyers has long been finding the human form through the spontaneous process of working with a model as a framework, then going to the studio and laying down mark upon mark, color upon color until some presence congeals. Her typically nude women, in gestures that look dynamic, even balletic are based on a firm mastery of life drawing and a passionate commitment to the sheer magic of the accidental mark. Meyers has not received the attention she should get because we are loathe to spend time with the gestural figure around these parts. With humor and a commitment to her vision over twenty years, and regardless of the vagaries of art movements, Meyers ironically and playfully names her excellent current show Go Figure. This to acknowledge the fact that the human form--from Willendorf to Jeff Wall--exerts a fundamental fascination for both maker and viewer. Meyers relishes in the body's grace and its tensions, and this show is loaded with gestural figures both fluid and disciplined at once. There is also a secondary series of stunning, stark and thoroughly unusual images of large, abstracted birds. Scrapping all the delicate associations we have with these creatures, the images loom: unique, dark, compelling (Soapbox, Venice).

Pia Fries abstractions are like painted explosions, alive with texture and gesture. In these dynamic works brightly colored shapes and globs of paint dance across the canvas. Fries uses the canvas a her palette, allowing the colors to mix right on the surface. In this way she builds up a texture of paint in addition to exposing the mixing process. Fries often uses silk screened images in the background that contrast with her impastoed paint, creating a dialogue between the flatness of photo-based processes and the depth of hand applied paint (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

Pia Fries, "Gambetta," 2002, oil and
silk screen on panel, 67 x 86 1/2".

Hanten (theater coat), Japanese, c. 1860-
1870, cotton/brocade/metallic threads/
tsutsugaki resist painted, 91 1/2" long.
Matsuri is an ancient Shinto Buddhist ritual that involves elaborate accouterments used in festivals that connect merry makers with nature deities, with ancestors past, friends present and with drawing forth spirits so joyous and exuberant they are able to shock deities into a benevolent awareness of humankind. Featured here is festive dress, sculptures, screens, shrine ornaments and banners used in Matsuri rituals and parades. Think classical Japanese opera meets surrealist ballet meets grass roots craft at the highest level and you have a sense of this magnificent stuff (UCLA/Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).

In recent still lifes Willard Dixon explores the complex relationships between form and color. Many of the paintings here are diptychs--where two canvas of different sizes or colors are juxtaposed. One is a monochrome, the other a flat ground in an opposing hue that supports groups of objects in an ambiguous/flat space. This minimal approach calls attention to the balance between the panels, as well as to subtleties in the depicted forms. More than depictions of bowls or fruit, these paintings are studies of light and shadow, with graceful compositional dynamics (Earl McGrath Gallery, West Hollywood).

Willard Dixon, "Dark Bowl with
Silver Cup," 2002, o/c, 24 x 36"

Sam Durant, "Upside Down: Pastoral
Scene" (detail), 2002, fiberglass/wood/
mirror/acrylic/audio equipment; 12 works:
mirrors 48 x 48" each; trees 36 to
55 x 30 to 60 inches each.
Courtesy Blum & Poe, Santa Monica.
Photo: Joshua White.
Sam Durant draws from popular culture and art history to create his installation-based works. His drawings and sculptures investigate social and political movements. Fusing literature, rock and roll, as well as specific movements in the history of art, the works are generally rooted in the music of the Rolling Stones and the earthworks of Robert Smithson. Durant weaves curious and poignant narratives that connects the parts. Durant’s growing mastery of free association enables him to transform ideas into compelling room-sized installations. By presenting work beginning with his 1994 models of the renowned case study houses in disrepair, and moving to a 2002 installation of mirrors, music and upside down trees Durant’s development and influences are illuminated, yet there is always more than meets the eye. A soundtrack blasts a Stone’s song, and Durant layers it with new meanings.
How does it relate to Smithson? To violence? To race and to class? Durant is interested in the social and the political and uses art and the works of his heroes to speak about failed utopias wand broken promises. He is no pessimist. There is hope in his outlook, and that hope comes from the process of creation (MOCA, Downtown).

The daughter of the 16th-century English King Henry VIII ruled in a time that was caught up in the throes of intense religious intrigue. England’s most renowned monarch to the present day, Queen Elizabeth has been studied and Hollywood-ized extensively. Coming to the throne young, flowering to this instinctual loyalty to the nation she inherited from her excessive dad, Elizabeth grew into one of the most enlightened monarchs of the Renaissance. Gloriana! The Golden Legend of Elizabeth I culls a magnificent and accurate picture of the so called Virgin Queen (hardly!) from a vast array of historical and pictorial materials, including letters, portraits and even Shakespearean prose that directly and left-handedly referred to the Queen. All will be on view, and sprinkled throughout the month will be Renaissance dancers and musicians in an series of events designed to bring history, art, letters and power very much to life (Huntington Library, Pasadena).

Queen Elizabeth I, engraving from
James Granger's "A Biographical
History of England," 1769-74.