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February, 2004

Alexander Couwenberg, “Lily,”
2003, a/c, 72 x 66”.
In his current exhibit, entitled Primo, painter Alexander Couwenberg is aiming to be primo (first) among abstract painters. Working with a limited pictorial vocabulary, the artist layers a recurring oval pattern, highlighting the intersecting planes. Many of these works brighten in areas of common space, celebrating union, intercourse perhaps. The expanses of a warm, alluring beige are all around in these large canvases. Couwenberg never comes right out and announces these paintings as representations of the flesh, as there is no illusionistic space in his organic, high modern compositions. The conceptual partiality to celebrating shared space, however, is downright sexy amidst the serious melody of relocating mid-century couch painting into the realm of contemporary context. There are hints at surface tension in tiny sanded areas that reveal offbeat colors, serving as memories of what might have been. This is serious painting that goes beyond the formal into a realm of sensual possibility (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

Richard Sedivy exhibits an installation surrounding six paintings that traces the development of his finished works. Rather than just exhibit the finished pieces, he has chosen to cover the gallery walls with related notes, sketches and reference materials. Artists often draw from multifarious sources when creating their work, but do not often share that process with their viewers, let alone make it central to an exhibition. While the paintings are the primary objects of attention, the surrounding materials turn out to be just as engaging to look at.

Richard Sedivy, “No Epiphany Here,” 2002,
oil/varnish/acrylic on wood, 53.2 x 87”.
Sedivy’s choice of subject includes different forms of art--specifically decorative vases, as well as ships and boats. He paints these objects with an acute sense of detail, but surrounds them in abstract fields devoid of context. He divides up his compositions, creating hierarchies within the works. How one reads this is very much affected by the studies and sketches taped to the wall alongside the paintings. Because the supplementary materials work, you come away feeling that they are an integral part of the paintings (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Randall Sellers, “Untitled #2”
(detail), graphite on paper, 8 x 10”.
The small, secure center of a piece of paper is all Randall Sellers needs. The artist draws the tiniest fanciful landscapes perhaps ever produced by pencil. Strange combinations of medieval castles and science fiction arches are scattered about an industrial menagerie in these one inch square landscapes nestled within the fair confines of an ordinary 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. The drawings are fussy, dense and totally unimaginable to execute. When it was suggested in the gallery office that Sellers was perhaps the offspring of Frank Gehry and R. Crumb, gallery dealer Richard Heller pointed out that Sellers manages a line that is tighter than Crumb’s, and a cityscape equally more dense and varied than the famed cartoonist.
Heller’s assistant, her background in architecture, posited that a Crumb union with architect Mies Van Der Rohe would add up to produce a Sellers, the former’s attention to the beauty of detail far outweighing that of trendier contemporaries. That small drawings of bizarre worlds can equally strain the eye and the mind’s conceptualization of genetics at the same time is a testament to the very unique place at which Sellers has arrived at in his art (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).

Even the most creative players of those mind expansion games that challenge one to come up with as many uses or definitions of a term imaginable will be amazed at the breadth and depth of responses by local artists to the term “vessel” that are jam-packed into this exhibition of The Inspired Vessel. Nearly fifty participants stretch their mastery of diverse media, ranging from porcelain and earthenware through wood, paper, glass, light, plastics and plants, to address notions of containment, shelter, transportation, walls and voids. Ethnic, biological, spiritual and historical references, metaphors, allegories and poetic reflections abound. Viewers seeking examples of inspiring standards of craftsmanship will not be disappointed, but the real potential lurking within the confines of the show’s theme emerges in works that layer classic, domestic and symbolic forms with contemporary concerns (Barnsdall Art Park, Municipal Art Gallery, Hollywood).

Jim Keville, "Covered Jar," ceramic, 23 x 11".

Michael Dvortcsak, "Copper Bi-Valve," o/c, 68 x 30".

Sandeep Mukherjee, “Untitled
(Mountain)” (detail), 2004, acrylic/
color pencil/needle on Duralene.
Sandeep Mukherjee is a young artist who has quickly gained a serious critical following. It is testimony to his appeal that through the coolness of conceptual art, Sandeep has always managed to make intensely sensual, obsessively visual work that celebrates color, texture, surface, sheer beauty and draftsmanship. On view here is a single piece, a wall-sized installation, pointing to the artist's increasing interest in the contribution that viewing space can make to a work's impact. The piece features a larger than human scale, incandescent mountain that is painted in magentas and marigolds onto transparent lucite panels.
From this peak fall, float and glide astutely foreshortened images of the same haunting, hairless nude male (the artist was his own model). The orange/yellow space apes Asian landscape painting, with its multiple vantage points, vertical recession and mist filled ridges. Suspended figures--drafted in detailed colored pencil linework--both fall down perilously from grace and, in the same measure, float up as if dancing in airless heavens (Pomona College Museum of Art, Pomona).

Beat Streuli is a Swiss photographer who documents people going about their daily business as they walk, talk and display themselves in public spaces. His works depart from the snapshot aesthetic in their presentation--larger than life--as well as in their interest in fashion and color. While Streuli presents what he sees in a seemingly unedited many, his vision is quite specific. Each color photograph depicts a group of people caught unaware as they walk along the street. While these images are slices of everyday life, they embody more than just the moment. Streuli pays attention to modern fashion as well as the surrounding urban environment. While the “where” is not important to the images, the sense of the hustle and bustle of the modern city is.

Beat Streuli, "Window
Installation," 2003, trans-
parent inkjet prints.
In the gallery, in addition to framed single images, Streuli creates a grid of large scale images that amounts to a full-size wall mural. This presentation creates a greater sense of movement, as it is a more filmic installation of the work. Streuli has also created a transparent image in the front window of the gallery, something seen from the street that references the idea of the urban hurly burly (Roberts & Tilton Gallery, West Hollywood).

Howard Hodgkin, “Little Venice,”
2003, oil on wood, 10 1/2 x 13”.
There he goes again, manipulating opaque and translucent pigments in a storm of painterly effects. No, not J. M. W. Turner, but that venerated living British romantic, Howard Hodgkin. His exuberant pull of vivid wave-like blue oils dash over the frame of Grief in a luminous tumble, suggesting a shipwrecked de Kooning awash in the English channel. Hodgkin’s usual vocabulary of blots, spots, stripes and swirls has loosened up in this series. Somber colors underlie some of the works, reinforcing the wistfulness of titles like Tribute, Memorial and A Long Goodbye. Coupled with the artist’s practice of actively playing with the layering of paint inside and over old picture frames, the titles suggest a revamping of past histories, a reprisal of professional and personal gains and losses. Hodgkin will not pass gently into the night. His dexterous handling of color and space still flames with electrifying beauty (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

The late Hanna Wilke (1940-1993) was a prolific artist who long worked the cutting edge of the feminist dialogue. Her use of vaginal imagery in sculpture ranging from terra cotta to chewing gum in the early ‘60s was then truly a radical act. The artist’s body often provided a visual and conceptual field for her made objects, which ironically suggested the sort of invasive disease that ultimately took her life at age 52. This beautifully installed and thoughtful survey of works from the 1960s-1990s shows not only the development of her work and ideas, but also how consistent and mature her vision was. Included are photographs, sculptures, drawings and video documentation of her performance work. Attractive as a young woman, Wilke died from cancer, and had the courage to aesthetically recorded her body’s gradual demise. Included are works from her 1990s series Brushstrokes, in which she used hair she lost from chemotherapy to create sensual and chilling drawings (SolwayJones, West Hollywood).

Hanna Wilke, “S.O.S.
Starification Object Series,”
1974, photograph, 7 x 5”.

Catherine Opie, "Untitled #8
(Surfers)," 2003, C-print,
edition of 5, 51 1/4 x 41 1/8".
Catherine Opie’s new color photographs offer a familiar subject to L.A. locals who regularly drive the Coast Highway: Surfers. Opie set up her camera at the beach and documented numerous surfers who wait patiently for the Perfect Wave. In these large scale images the sky and water meet at a vanishing horizon punctuated by small black dots--surfers. The images capture the contemplative nature of the sport, the sitting and waiting in the vast expanse of ocean, rather than the thrill of the ride that has fueled innumerable films and photographs for decades. Opie personalizes the Surfers seascape with the addition of nine close-up color portraits of members of the community, identified by their first names. Larkie, Ken, Rachel, Nick, Erin, Margaret, Shiva, Coda and Matt emerge from the Malibu waters embracing their board. They are youthful, dripping wet, their freckles, pimples and sunburned skin as uncensored as their near frontal postures. Aesthetically implied is an openness, honesty and directness that makes it easy to believe that we are meeting them face to face (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Removing black ink with knife points is a painstaking way to build an image. David Trulli’s scratchboard pieces stay the course to create a ‘40s-era noir atmosphere. Naturalism is stylized, at times too stiffly, to make these images play out like Greek tragedies, where unfortunate endings appear inevitable in order to make a larger point (Gallery 825 Annex, Santa Monica).

David Trulli, "Microwave Sunset",
2003, scratchboard, 24 x 36".

Tracy Nakayama, "Hold On,"
2003, ink on paper, 13 x 10".
The 1970s bestseller by Dr. Alex Comfort, The Joy of Sex had a reputation as being the closest thing to a hippie bible that there was. New York artist Tracy Nakayama’s watercolor scenes are reminiscent of the book’s close-up pages of beards performing cunnilingus and penises being cuddled into the bosoms of shapely earth mom-mas. But Nakayama’s images remind us that this book of step by step stoner communion ended up more likely to be found under the beds of middle class parents than it was next to a commune’s supply of macramé. Like the girl named Rainbow who was often asked if her parents were hippies, “They thought they were.” There is a contextual irony in seeing other people from different periods of time doing the nasty; we feel superior, quite contemporary in contrast to them. And we, the gallery viewers, are not currently naked.
Nakayama’s wet lines of a seventies rust tone add an irony in line with her generation: If you are old enough to remember sex in the 1970s, you are old enough to be the parents of today’s art stars. Like us all, the thoughtof mom and dad making love alter-nates between queasy and funny. When it is well painted in simple monochrome line, the act--no matter who is involved--becomes validated as a timeless cultural relic under Nakayama’s talented hand and sharp, ironic eye (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Monique van Genderen makes abstract works that juxtapose vinyl and paint. Her paintings and site specific wall works have a sophisticated design and color palette that are immediately engaging as they seem to evoke the familiar, yet present nothing that is quite expected.
The swirling shapes that inhabit the smooth surfaces weave in and out. While the images are sparse, they are extremely lush. Van Genderen has been making work out of layers vinyl for a number of years now. She often adheres the vinyl directly to the wall, making large scale temporary paintings. Here she presents large and small paintings, drawings as well as a wall painting. The exhibition demonstrates van Gender-en’s sense of design and composition as well as her willingness to try new things and go in new directions in order to achieve the unexpected (Happy Lion, Downtown).

Monique van Genderen, "from blindness
and snow, soft slope in two pinks," 2004, oi/
enamel/vinyl on two wood panels, 7 x 12'.

Roy Dowell, “Untitled (#876),” 2003,
acrylic/burlap on canvas, 26 x 20”.
Roy Dowell is a master of collage. He is a superb colorist and a skilled painter who has been making his modest-sized paintings and drawings for over twenty years. His approach to abstraction is opulant, always a feast for the eyes. At first glance the works here seem to be studies of color and form, yet upon close examination one notices how each painting is an intricate world unto itself. Dowell is conscious of every surface and texture, masterfully juxtaposing paint, burlap, and painted paper onto his canvases. The work may be abstract, but Dowell continually alludes to popular culture. He has drawn from and included fragments from billboard signs--specifically parts of letters--which ground it in the realm of the observable rather than in the world of the imaginary (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Large scale sculptures of wood spun like ribbon comprise the solo show of John Rose. The artist makes something that is obviously time-consuming look whimsically simple. As the physical space in these works torques inward, the negative space becomes a second sculptural corkscrew. Wood has a natural warmth, perhaps ingrained in the viewer more than in any natural reality within the material. Regardless, something about the way wood reinforces the space around itself gives these works a feeling of completion that metal or stone would fail to achieve in the same configuration.

John Rose, "Odalisque",
2003, poplar, 30 x 81 x 26".
They are a unique combination of solid and light. There is a detailed process going into the curving of this material, and a labor intensive focus is aimed at the larger shape of the piece, perhaps sacrificing the natural beauty of the material. That the artist has faith in the aesthetic potential of his composition and technique is inherent in the commitment he makes to it (Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica).

A stunning and disturbing series of photos by Susan Meiselas captures gritty carnival strippers seeming to both pose for the viewer and aimlessly waiting unclad and half clad for the show to begin. The black and white images have a Depression era/dustbowl feel, conveying that time when poverty sent ingenues to work for peep shows. These unglamorous girls--even the youngest looking--are somehow benumbed veterans of objectification; they are envisioned here to challenge every notion we have of ideal classical nudity. Meiselas emphasizes what Kenneth Clark called “raw nakedness,” and her rotund, lush, sullied women composed at odd, uncontrived angles--cellulite and all--are finally both utterly abject and utterly sublime (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).