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October, 2004

Pat O'Neill, "The Decay of Fiction" (still),
2002, 35mm film, 74 minutes.
Pat O’Neill mastered the layering of visual information early in his career, extending the boundaries of traditional media with strategies that included sandwiching photo negatives, mounting multi-tiered collages between glass and constructing painterly montages from ads, signs and images lifted from engineering texts. He moved from student and photography teacher at UCLA to become one of the founding members of Cal Arts’ film and video faculty in the early1970’s. Five years later he established Lookout Mountain Films, a special effects and optical printing company. Fifteen of O’Neill’s innovative films are screened in this comprehensive exhibition, including The Decay of Fiction, which blends long, gradual camera movements through the abandoned Ambassador Hotel with ghostly shots of actors filmed against a black backdrop.
This beautifully integrated exhibition of O’Neill’s work successfully projects his genius at synthesis and in structuring imagery in both moving and still media (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Similar sounds and words, places that bear a resemblance to one other, chance associations are just the kinds of starting points that Edgar Arceneaux gravitates towards. Here musician Sun Ra, artist Sol Lewitt, and the star around which we revolve are the primary elements on which he builds a formal system involving a cycle of drawings, films, and a large scale sculptural work (Susanne Vielmetter Gallery, Culver City).

Edgar Arceneaux, "Borrowed Sun".

Stanley Goldstein, "Dancing by the
TV," 2004, oil on panel, 66 x 45".
The type of realism that Stanley Goldstein devotes himself to is that of the private, self-absorbed moment. Scenes may be as banal as frolicking beachgoers or a driver puffing at a cigarette, but they also veer towards the voyeuristic peek of, say, a naked woman letting herself go in a private estatic dance. Clarity of form, tilting cinematic angles, and lively brushwork contribute to the distinctive character of his work (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

We expect intense performance-based work from Michael McMillen, and the Museum of Distraction again delivers. He transforms the gallery into a chamber of four darkened room/corridors filled with junk--tickets, recovered debris--all from the streets and alleys of L.A. Doppleganger Cinema is the section where McMillan recreates a nostalgic and deserted ticket window, accompanied by an archaic film projector and a silent film montage. Other installations include elements of Hollywood stage sets and assemblage, gathered here, so it seems, to make us think of Our City: its Hollywood ethos and the issues unique to tinsel town; what is real and what is fashioned, projected, and constructed as real.

Michael McMillen, "Hallway 509," 1991,
painted wood and metal construction.
The effect is at once contemplative, entertaining and pretty disturbing. It’s all like a smart, thought provoking turn-of-the-century House of Wax that’s been crossbred with a classic Kurt Schwitters merzbau (CSU Fullerton, Orange County).

Liza Ryan, "Below Me Treetops
and a Crow," 2004, light jet
and silver gelatin, 129 x 14 4/5".
Liza Ryan’s photographic works are quasi narratives. She explores the relationship between the body and nature while trying to weave a story around their interactions. These large scale works are subtle and enigmatic. Some are presented in color, others in black and white. The pieces, although all discreet works, function as an installation in the way they play off one another. In one work Ryan collages delicate swirls on top of an image of tall trees. This shape is then repeated in another image as a shadow that falls across a man’s chest. As one looks across the space from work to work, new relationships are formed. The idea of transformation is integral to Ryan’s work and pushes the boundary between observation and interaction (Griffin Contemporary Art, Santa Monica).

Kim MacConnel, "Untitled #5 &6", 2004, acrylic on cotton sheeting, each 102 x 108".

Kim MacConnel, who was the subject of a retrospective exhibition last year at the Santa Monica Museum, this year presents colorful new paintings. Best known as a leader of the pattern and decoration movement, MacConnel’s works are exactly that. Large shapes in bright colors dominate his canvases. MacConnel often explores the differences of repeating similar shapes in different colors. There is definitely a system to MacConnel’s explorations, and the works that fill the gallery--acrylic on canvas, acrylic on large cotton sheets, and enamel on panel--illustrate the range and breadth of his talents (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Word and image are held in balance throughout Lawrence Gipe’s body of work. One series of paintings, elements, draws on random selections of prominent Nazi photographer Dr. Paul J. Wolff, which he translates into paintings so as to relive them through the hand of historical rejection. Propaganda images collaged together on loosely hung banners form a second series, confluence, in which the sum of the whole, by intent, is far less than its parts (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Lawrence Gipe, "elements,
comb, 1937," 2004.

Peter Alexander, "Peach," 2004, acrylic on
paper, 36 x 30" (2 panels, 36 x 40" each).

A new series of paintings called Waterfruit continue Peter Alexander’s fascination with reflection: light on surface, light on water. These optical effects are studied closely and translated into abstract fields that have all the atmospheric and painterly beauty we expect from this L.A. staple. Over the last year Alexander has been studying digital camera images of light on the ocean; these paintings are a springboard from those experiments. The light effects seem more conceptual than observed, as Alexander toys with the luminosity/vibration he can create on the surface and in our eyes through juxtaposing color and chroma. Lush and pretty, in tones of rich purples and saffron yellows, these paintings convey a serious tone that results from the super deliberate process. In counterpoint to all this richness, also shown are excellent archival images from the 1930s by Julius Shulman, the internationally recognized architectural photographer. Dubbed "pre-professional," in that these early shots display Shulman finding his "metier," as well as recording his world--acres of trees in then unspoiled Westwood Village, birds in flight--they are humanistic and anything but novice because Shulman already possessed a powerful instinct for structure (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Wouter Dam, "Blue Piece,"
2004, ceramic, 12 x 13 x 7".
Dutch artist Wouter Dam has worked in architectonic shapes for a decade, but these new pieces are the most architectural and primary thus far seen. The simple, elegant structures play with platonic solids and other basics of construction and design such as arches, ridges and planes. The results are very alive abstract forms in lush monochrome hues that are spare yet never lifeless. Don't let the easy elegance fool you; these are paper thin constructions with expert finishes accomplished via next to impossible feats of shaping and firing (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Charles Garabedian, "The Spring for Which I
Longed," 2001-03, acrylic on canvas, 144 x 288".

Charles Garabedian’s current show is organized around two huge paintings measuring some 25 feet each in the larger dimension. Garabedian has steadfastly stayed with representational imagery influenced by literature and mythology throughout his career, but in these works he ramps up the intensity by virtue of sheer size. In September Song a nude man lies face up--mouth ajar as if in reverie or death--inside a coffin-like canoe floating of its own accord toward green island hills. Garabedian reverses and jostles perspective rules--the distant islands look both too small and too close--so that the whole scene looks like a hallucination of sorts. In the large works Garabedian paints with an atypical precision that includes defined lines and lucid planes. The effect is compelling, and appears to reflect a heightened interest in the more than real (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

White Noise is a striking exploration of the sensory conscience. Curator Clara Kim has positioned video installations, whose blaring acoustics mimic the power of electro/magnetic fields, amongst quieter two dimensional wall-hung pieces and Shirley Tse’s found plastic construction, Musical Straws meets Power Tower. Works by eight artists, including Stefan Bruggenmann’s glaring neon message (This is Not Supposed to Be Here), aptly reference Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, in which an airborne toxic event hovers over a postmodern society dependent on electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Laureana Toledo, "Petrones
Migratorios (Migration Patterns),"
2001, color photograph, 8 x 10".
Among the works that shift viewers’ perception a bit closer towards the loll of raindrops or ocean surf sought by those who plug in to white noise to screen out stress is Laureana Toledo’s Patrones Migratorios. Here the artist lifts sections of emulsion from photos of migrating birds, mapping a void (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).

Susan Tibbles, "Girl Next Door,"
2004, assemblage, 27 x 23 x 5".
Susan Tibbles’ assemblages are not easy to read. Tibbles builds images piece by piece, at various scales, but always with an aesthetic relationship of disparate objects and a message that becomes intensified by virtue their incongruity. Somehow when placed side by side, an innocuous object is fortified by the synergy of just the right scrap, a button, bit of lace, old tin box, yellowed photo, or wrinkled velvet fabric. Momentum builds as objects come together and a great force swells. What starts as a quiet wall assemblage becomes explosive as the art is digested. At one time Tibbles began with a theme, often political--female inequality, racial discrimination, or global environmental issues. In this series, she starts her process by falling in love with the objects, their original purpose, and their formal qualities. But the religious, political, and sexual themes, often a blend of several in one work, continue to emerge (Greenwood/Chebithes Gallery, Orange County).

The four artists brought together in The More Things Change. . ., Conrad Buff, Larry Cohen, Terry Delapp, and Paul Wonner, are associated by the landscape subject. Work by each has its own distinctiveness, but the logic here is that some element of one will resonate in the work of another. Cohen and Buff are well represented with potent signature works. Delapp’s long distance views and hazy atmospherics are credible but less compelling, while Wonner is poorly represented by small works that fail to hint at his important contributions (George Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Conrad Buff, "The Old Soda Works, Near
Independence," oil on board, 16 1/4 x 24".

Tino Rodriguez, "Strange Flowers Blossom,"
2004, oil on wood, 15 1/2 x 14 3/4".
The world of Persian miniatures seems reincarnated in Tino Rodriguez’s modestly sized, outlandishly and at times magically detailed panels. Images of a peaceable kingdom clash with stark elements of violence or deformation. If the artist was deeply impressed, as he acknowledges, by his childhood experience of fairy tales it certainly shows, but these are decidedly the adult version (Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Christopher Chinn's new paintings convince that he is a talented and skilled painter. The numerous new works here range in size from the intimate to the monumental, the largest being elliptically shaped works over 90 inches wide that show single individuals focused on whatever they are doing. Chinn's a realist who observes the urban environment, selecting aspects to transpose to his canvases. In one work he depicts an individual break dancing, in another he captures the city in flux. Chinn's palette and style of painting is traditional, while his subject matter is not. He investigates the space around a subject, and rather than simply depict the observable world he crops and isolates moments. The oval disk format suggests there is more to see or think about outside the frame (Keller & Greene Fine Art, West Hollywood).

Christopher Chinn, "First Sketch for
Downtown on Hope Street," 2003,
oil on panel, 5 3/4 x 5 3/4".

John McKenzie, "Disliking Barry Manilow,"
no date, mixed media, 54 x 47 x 4".
Courtesy Creativity Explored.
Radiant Spaces: Private Domain features work by people with developmental differences; that is PC for people with handicaps, and one clarifies this with no disrespect intended. Picasso said that he had spent half his life learning how to draw like the masters, and would spend the other half trying to forget that so he could draw like an innocent. Not everything in this show is great and, yes, some of it seems to have gotten in under the curatorial line simply on the basis of this "developmental difference" hook. But for every peice that is iffy there is another singing with that direct, fresh connection to unincumbered creative energy that is only too rare in our over sampled, marketed and aestheticized visual world (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica; also at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, Orange County).

Tom LaDuke's paintings depict the vast expanse of sky and road that dominates the Southern California landscape. In these abstract and seemingly monochromatic paintings what emerges from the vast areas of gray tones are the outlines of buildings, street signs and power lines. LaDuke's paintings are subtle and highly detailed. In addition to the paintings and drawings of the banal urban sprawl, are three dimensional works. One of the surprises here is a sculptural self portrait entitled Self Inflicted Burden. Here LaDuke uses Chris Burden’s early event Shoot as the subject and object of his work.

Tom LaDuke, "Them" (detail), military enamel, watercolor, pencil, glitter on aluminum, 48 x 70".
Photo credit: Brian Forrest.
In other sculptural pieces he casts his body parts, making fragments that become the 'roofs' of model-sized storage facilities. His three-dimensional and two-dimensional concerns--the body and the urban landscape--fuse, creating an enigmatic and confrontational result (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Sam Durant, "Monument for May 68, History
Doesn't Repeat Itself. . .," 2004, fiberglass,
mirror, steel, approximately 87 x 69 x 63".
Photo courtesy of Josh White.
Sam Durant has become one of the most interesting politically-minded artists working today. His mixed media works draw not only from art history--he is particularly influenced by Robert Smithson--but are very much informed by current events and how the media presents those events to the public. One installation, Involved, is a room of photographs mounted to mirrors. The images, of protests from the mid-1960s to the present, were culled from the media. In a second gallery there is a large cage made out of a chainlink fence surrounded by drawing that is loaded with political connotations. The third gallery space is more minimal--four mirrors and a large-scale sculpture resembling a good sized boulder. Durant’s use of mirrors references Robert Smithson, yet also implicates the viewer, making you aware of the space you are in and your presence in it, along with the subject of the works (Blum & Poe, Culver City).

We will, hopefully, never tire of masterful representational painting with classical roots. Much as we decry the end of draftsmanship and the ascendance of the idea, there is just something about paint made to look like the turn of a supple lip or the thigh of a nude lad. Aaron Smith delivers just such painting, and just in case you miss the point he will delineate a lush nude body with a transparent sheet of fabric in front of it so that even something as unseen as light through cloth is rendered tangible via paint and the play of shadow on and in it. Other portraits are delivered in true old school Van Eyck style, apparently reflected in some round object like a mirror or a Christmas tree globe. There are moments when the work is forced, the anatomy a little awkward, but if this is the trajectory for a relatively young artist, great things lie ahead (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

Aaron Smith, "Open Shade,"
2004, oil on panel, 60 x 60".