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September - Octboer, 2003 at Gallery C, South Bay

by Shirle Gottlieb

Don't you just love it? Two decades after pundits proclaimed painting dead, it’s still very much present in galleries all over the globe--kicking and screaming and attracting world-wide attention. You don't need critics to spell out the obvious. Just check out any arts calendar and see for yourself; or better yet, visit a series of exhibitions and count how many of them feature painting.

One compelling example arrives this month at Gallery C, the South Bay's largest new gallery. Built in 1923 as the Hermosa Beach Bijou Theater, this historic structure has now been transformed into a staggering exhibit space--one that occupies 6,500 square-feet and is dedicated to contemporary painting, sculpture, and installation.

Drunken Masters promises to be an intriguing exhibit, as it showcases the work of four ranking California-based painters: James Hayward, Roger Herman, Peter Lodato and Hubert Schmalix. The title of the show refers to the philosophy of the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.” These 3rd-Century Taoist artists believed that to become "one with the Tao," they had to surrender themselves to the arts and be submerged in it every day.

Though Hayward, Herman, Lodato and Schmalix come from diverse backgrounds, and each approaches the "oneness" of life and art in his own distinct way, they claim to live by a common philosophy. "Drink deep from the fountain of knowledge and truth. Live daily as though it is your last here on earth."

You'll be surprised by the spell-binding effect of Herman's recent wall-sized, oil on canvas paintings. Currently Head of Painting at UCLA, this German-born artist is known for his powerful, neo-expressionistic woodcuts.

Roger Herman, "Untitled,"
o/c, 120 x 84".

Peter Lodato, “Violet Nine,”
2003, oil on linen, 96 x 42”.

But in this new series of work Herman creates all-over patterned abstractions that evoke Tibetan secrets, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or encoded Mayan tomb design. In one Untitled 10 x 7 foot composition, his hypnotic abstractions conjure other-worldly imagery or Mesopotamian/Babylonian scroll inscriptions.

By contrast, Lodato creates large-scale geometric paintings that consist solely of brilliantly hued, luminous stripes. One suspects that, inspired by Eastern thought, Lodato regards life as fleeting while time is eternal. Within that frame of reference, everything material has been eliminated, leaving only spiritual light and ephemeral shadows.

James Hayward, "Chromachord #26," oil
on cnavas on wood panel, 14 x 10 1/2".

Hubert Schmalix, “Belvedere,”
2003, o/c, 69 x 51”.
Hayward's small abstract paintings are so organic and tactile you’ll want to reach out and touch them. Using both brush and palette knife loaded with paint, he attacks his canvas with strong, spontaneous strokes that virtually dash across his canvases. Cutting through layers of pigment as his strokes swoop by, Hayward produces interwoven patterns that resemble either living organisms (veins, arteries and cell structures), and feel like they could be the matrix of the universe.

Rounding out the foursome is master colorist Hubert Schmalix, a transplanted Austrian and professor of painting from the Vienna Arts Academy. Romantic in tone, highly stylized in design, some of Schmalix' lush landscapes evoke the mystical imagery of the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelites. Other works, reminiscent of Paul Gauguin, depict fantasized figures surrounded by idealized tropical vegetation. In both instances there hangs an aura of naive sensuality.