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June, 2003

Laura Owens, "Untitled," 2000,
acrylic and oil on canvas, 110 x 132".
Laura Owens seems capable of propelling color and line through space like a “natural” athlete, without stress or wasted effort. An early career survey (works date no further back than 1997) underscores the seductive quality of the artist’s gifted and varied markmaking skills. Visual sources quoted in the show’s 31 paintings and 26 works on paper draw freely on historical influences ranging from classical Chinese and Japanese landscape painting and 18th-century embroidered textiles, through brushes with the likes of Helen Frankenthaler. Owens brings ideas of decoration vs. high art into direct and fruitful collision. She also knows how to energize space on a grand scale. Large canvases depict gestural landscapes and willowing branches that are often juxtaposed with child-like doodles and kitschy animal portraits. She manages to be fanciful and sophisticated at the same time, establishing herself as a growing force in contemporary painting (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Lezley Saar’s mixed-media constructions are an assault on our perceptions of racial stereotypes even as they please the eye. The surfaces of these handcrafted assemblages are seductively lush, highlighted with warm browns and reds. But it is her handling of the subject matter that makes the images so unforgettable. Saar’s artwork deals with the charged issue of the labels that we hang on people. Furthermore, by making they resemble reliquaries she gives them a religious imprimatur. Images like Dorothy Champ: Broadway Star and Bahai Activist are gripping in their intensity. The giant tears that stream down her sad face towards the banner, Mulatto Nation, brings forth a flood of emotions (Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Lezley Saar, “Oscar Willis: Ethiopian
Comedian circa 1850,” 2001, mixed
media, 14 3/4 x 11 x 11 1/4”.
Photo: Artworks, Pasadena.

Jonathan Torgovnik, "A Woman Buys a
Ticket for the Next Screening in Palli,
Maharashtra," color photograph.
Oddly incandescent color photos by Jonathan Torgovnik echo the hyperrealist look of the very arena that makes up his main subject: our fascination for and the curious place in our lives taken up by the world of the silver screen. Oddly enough he takes this fascination beyond Hollywood, illuminating the international obsession with the form. Hindi moviegoers bring fold-up chairs to sit outside their cars at a drive-in theater. A shot of a lovely Hindi girl peering excitedly into a ticket booth at super close range, exchanging exotic looking currency for a precious movie ticket, is both photogenic and revealing (Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood).

This show of paintings, prints and drawings by the northwest Abstract Expressionist heir Mark Tobey from Hans Burkhardt's collection takes us back to a time when European émigrés had just transplanted the idea of automatic, free-form gesture to the U.S. Tobey brought American innovative thinking and Japanese Zen perspective to bear in his breakthrough paintings. Small gallery samplings of a major artist or a big idea presentation can be silly or thin, unless the works' quality is high. Happily we score a cross section of some top notch works that make for a handsome and insightful show (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Mark Tobey, "Untitled", 1968,
tempera on paper, 11 x 8 1/2"

Erik Parker, "Lyrical Gang Bang,"
2003, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 60".
Painter Erik Parker presents a group of large, colorful paintings that explore the terrain where the visual meets the mental. They are graphic, post-pop slacker masterpieces. The densely packed lettering of these subjects within subjects (hardcore punk bands, hip hop celebrities, late 1970s news stories) are visually piled around each other to appear to be some sort of cerebral cortex vocabulary. The neurological theme must be intentional as Parker balances a keen symmetry with groups of these almost synonyms. Centered around hard edged cartooning of body orifices and appendages, Parker’s visible minds float in and out of focus, too mercurial to be tangible, too clever to be serious. As accessible as the draftsmanship is, the attention deficit displayed here requires a serious viewer to appreciate the subtly epic illustration of the contemporary mind (Happy Lion, Downtown).

Cici Gonzalez, "Bejios do Brasil (Kisses
from Brazil)," 2003, oil on canvas, 48 x 48".
Photo Credit: Reggie Coleman

Barbara Carrasco, "Patssi ,"
2003, acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20"
Photo Credit: Reggie Coleman

Revolution/Evolution II is a group show curated by Christina Ochoa at Galeria Otra Vez as part of the 30th anniversary of one of L.A.’s most productive community art centers. Featuring the art of six women, the show celebrates the diversity shared within a common heritage. Three artists were especially interesting. Barbara Carrasco uses the language of Pop Art to crisply render both political icons and personal struggles. These paintings teeter between intimate portrait and distant relic. Val Echavarria combines her talent at rendering with a fearless conceptual vulnerability. The artist delivers well-drafted confessionals that leave the viewer as titillated as they are unsettled by unexpectedly personal encounters. The show's most interesting discovery is painter Cici Gonzalez, who charters fresh territory in the large terrain separating narrative figuration and gravity-free abstraction. Time and space are casual elements, not fixations, to Ms. Gonzalez. The ability to try new things after one is informed is a hallmark of artistic wisdom this painter has reached and is excelling beyond (Self-Help Graphics, East Los Angeles).

Artis Lane’s three-decade career is highlighted by her official portrait of Rosa Parks at the National Portrait Gallery, the design of Parks' Congressional Medal, an installation for the Rosa Parks Library in Montgomery and a host of other important commissions. Even more compelling are what Lane calls her concept pieces--generic male and female nudes done in an oddly classical yet non-Western European way. Of amorphous race, Lane feels these figures indicate we are more the same than different. Lane is a wonderful draftsperson, adding precision to a version of the human body that is her own. This exhibition offers a look at her most recent and earliest works. A great bet (M. Hanks Gallery, Santa Monica).

Artis Lane, "Wise Virgin
#1," bronze, 33" high.

Charles Long, "Untitled," 2003,
mixed media, 99 x 52 x 51".
Charles Long is well known for his amorphous sculptures, whose bulbous and colorful freestanding forms have been both cartoon-like and sensual. In his new work Long works with found objects that have unusual shapes. By covering them in plaster and pastel-colored paint, he transforms them into evocative and ethereal sci-fi flavored works. The expansive space here is reconfigured into a more intimate square where he has assembled his latest freestanding and wall works. The sculptures work well together and when seen as a group appear to be alien figures adrift in an imagined city. Also on view are small clay sculptures by New York artist Kathy Butterly. These sensual organic forms are surreal explorations of cup-like forms (traditional ceramics) that evoke the body. The works, no larger than five inches high, are placed on small white shelves that extend from the gallery walls. The rows of sculptures all hung at eye level are a curious site that reward up close examination (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

A pleasant, almost conservative show of R. Crumb drawings reveals how far we have come. Divided into original drawings for comic books and place mat drawings (ostensibly done at restaurants), the show is a fair display of Crumb’s prodigious talents and wicked imagination. But in an era of internet pornography and reality television, Crumb’s once shocking Fritz The Cat is now quaint, and his grotesque exaggerations of ordinary ugliness seem very clean. His caricatures reflect an innocence of bygone times that seem more honest in an era where Crumb’s alleged disciples, like Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, regularly reduce the semiotics of cartoon imagery to pure abject baseness for the sake of career. The show is encapsulated by a drawing of Charles Bukowski retiring in a hot tub, still obese, pockmarked and as rough around the edges as ever, but sadly comfortable in his old age (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

R. Crumb, "Untitled (St.
Hippolyte)," ink on paper, 2001.

Carlos Merida, "Ventanas", 1975,
acrylic on paper, 30 x 22 inches.
Native Guatemalan Carlos Merida was of that early modernist generation that came out of Latin America to bring School of Paris thinking to bear on nativist cultural models. By his late fifties he stylistically settled into a form of abstraction that incorporates or indirectly hints at pre-Columbian imagery that is deeply woven into the quasi-architectural structures and atmospheric backgrounds, and remained central to his aesthetic vocabulary for the rest of his life. These he produced abundantly, and that long period is well represented by the over 30 paintings here (Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills)

Steven Shearer is a young artist from Vancouver who collects images and recombines them in collages that investigate both youth and popular culture. He presents photography, painting and digital works in a variety of sizes that are hung salon style in the gallery. Among the most interesting of Shearer's works are collages that present images found in magazines or online of teenage pop idols. He juxtaposes numerous reproductions of these young stars so as to in effect create a leveling of their images. They are reduced to postage stamp-size and amassed on a single page. Shearer has also archived thousands of digital images from the internet, and created collages of the unusual products one can buy online. Shearer draws on the outskirts of popular culture, and proceeds to effectively reinterpret media driven imagemaking (Blum & Poe, Santa Monica).