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April, 2005

As a pioneer of hard edge abstraction Karl Benjamin has built a wonderfully lyrical body of work on the rationalist foundation of geometric form. This show of early black and white drawings displays the skewed adherence to and restlessness with the precedent of Piet Mondrian, drawing on his classic grid structure, but responding to the Southern California landscape just as readily (Louis Stern Gallery, West Hollywood).

Karl Benjamin, "Mondrian II," 1957,
india ink on paper, 8 3/4 x 11 1/2".

There is a not-so-subtle medieval romanticism at the heart of Cynthia Evans’ work, but she marshals her aesthetic temperament to reflect on a very modern self. Weaving together the figurative and diagrammatic has its pitfalls, not the least of which is some measure of artifice that one must be wary of. But her scenes are dressed up beautifully to seduce the eye, but also to bring you face to face with variously administered doses of harsh reality. It’s not often clear when that reality is personal and psychological, or political and social, but that Evans allows plenty of openings for such uncertainty is precisely why this work demands to be seen (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

Cynthia Evans, "Yanqui Go Home," 2004,
mixed media on wood panel, 18 x 18".

Darren Waterston, "Templum no.
1," 2004, oil on panel, 36 x 36".
Darren Waterston’s paintings fuse the organic with the geometric. This beautifully crafted work is subtle and gestural. The neutral grounds are the background for brighter elements, as lines and shapes in orange and white populate the canvases. The works allude to both the landscape and the body. As one’s eye follows lines that become shapes then return to being lines through the composition, it feels as though you’ve been on a wonderful journey through an imaginary land where shape and form take precedent over everything else (Michael Kohn Gallery, West Hollywood).

Qes Adamu Tesfaw is a former priest of the Orthodox Ethiopian Church who left the clergy to paint full time, and was trained in the philosophy and illuminated manuscript tradition of that 1,500 year old religion. His paintings tap the oldest beliefs, customs and current ironies of a land filled with oppositions. Tied to Arabic, African, Muslim, and Christian traditions, in a kind of cultural crossroads, Ethiopia provides this remarkable artist with the subject for scenes of medieval battle, of the English Queen visiting the late Emperor Haile Selassie, of veiled women in a sacred coffee ceremony. The Holy Trinity depicted in the form of fused Siamese twins holding the sacramental bread is simply an amazing image. The style of rendering is superb, and straight from early Christian illuminations--flat, intense, linear, oddly stylized, and full of Life (UCLA/Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).

Qes Adamu Tesfaw, "St. George
and the Dragon," 1993, oil
on cotton cloth, 53 x 68 1/4".

Peter Goldlust, "Doubled Over," and
Julie Hughes, "Turned Out," 2005,
mixed media, installation view.
There is inspired co-mingling in the two and three-dimensional imagery by Julie Hughes and Peter Goldlust. Their witty and brazen a manner defies the commonplace akin to Dr. Seuss’ peopling of Mulberry Street. Hughes and Goldlust both toy with scale and ambiguity. The medical illustrations and decorative patterns that inspire Hughes’ airbrushed, hand-painted imagery, take on new life when she cuts them free to loop around the room and meld into shimmering puddles of color. Goldlust’s denser, more vivid contact paper cutouts and polymer clay and mixed media creatures attract and repulse at the same time, underscoring the artist’s propensity to investigate seemingly irreconcilable differences, as in his “Popocatepetl Menorah” series (z, Santa Monica).

Connie Jenkins, "Cinderella Slept
Here," 2004, oil on canvas, 58 x 94".

Bruce Everett, "Seacliff (Ventura
County)," 2003, oil on canvas, 24 x 30".

Three artists bring together offbeat but highly polished takes on the landscape tradition. Connie Jenkins has always sought to refresh it by seeing subjects abstractly and metaphorically. Here the L.A. River poses, never quite as itself. Mark Swope has built a body of photographic work about various aspects of the southland, and the current series of tree portraits taken in Elysian Park are properly viewed in the context of this growing body of work. It’s easy to contemplate the anthropomorphic qualities revealed by these cooperative models, but it is Swope’s anthropological deliberatness that lends them their resonance. Bruce Everett, by contrast, pulls the viewing lens back to dramatically take in rolling hills and distant mountain vistas. Painterly handling and strong contrast makes for a crisp vision of Southern California that for most folks here simply doesn’t exist (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Shoshana Dentz, "Fence II #17," 2003, gouache
and textured gel on paper, 8 1/8 x 11 1/8".
In her first Los Angeles exhibition New York based Shoshana Dentz fills the gallery with drawings and paintings of fences. Painted from photographs she took in her Brooklyn neighborhood, the works make reference to the fences in Holocaust camps as well to Israeli security fences that she depicted in earlier works. Interested in issues of confinement and containment as well as the idea of barriers, Dentz uses the image of a fence as a universal metaphor, presenting it both in context as well as an abstraction. While Dentz’s imagery is hauntingly evocative, it is also aesthetically rich and visually attractive (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

German based painter and installation artist Katharina Grosse’s painted installations fill walls, floors and often ceilings. Here she extends an array of brightly colored abstract marks from the walls to the floor. Making graffiti- like marks in the gallery, Grosse fuses street culture with high art, and the overall tone is aggressive and assertive. Interspersed with the wall painting are large and small abstract canvases that are more controlled and less energized. Grosse’s installation makes the room dance and dares the viewer to engage them by literally stepping on and over the work (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

Katharina Grosse, "Bee Troot",
2005, installation view.

Mark Grotjahn, "Untitled (colored
butterfly white background 10 wings),"
2004, colored pencil on paper.
Mark Grotjahn is a Los Angeles based abstract painter whose work is known for its layers of converging lines in bright colors that refer to receding space. The shapes in Grotjahn’s new large-scale drawings resemble butterfly wings, and he makes the association explicit by presenting these colorful patterns as if they were a group of butterflies moving in harmony. Juxtaposed with the wing-shaped works are a series of dark “flowers.” Here Grotjahn depicts the place where lines converge as a dark center rather than as a colorful array (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

One of our foremost mural realists, Richard Wyatt is now turning more to easel-scaled work. The craggy landscape of the face serves as the basis for most of this new work, an approach that works best--and that is very well indeed--with older subjects such as tennis legend Jack Kramer, or the late jazz great Thelonious Monk. Color in his paintings functions symbolically or artificially, at times veering to take on a stylized or dated feel, while pencil drawings go more directly and unerringly to reveal the sitter (Steve Turner Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Richard Wyatt, "Teddy Edwards," 2004,
pencil drawing on paper, 14 7/8 x 22 1/4".

Mary Warner, "Flowers in Space III,"
2000, oil on canvas, 72 x 60".
Mary Warner paints amazing fecund flowers on velvet, paper and canvas. Typically these are isolated, rich and writ large. You might want to call Warner a neo-Feminist because this work is so unapologetically layered, beautiful and even vulvar in passages. But Warner is more than anything else a died-in-the-wool classical draftsperson who obviously still believes that the message--whether sublime or erotic--lies in the skill of describing, and she accomplishes this with remarkable grace. The very large “Space Odyssey” depicts, with the precision of a Dürer, two enormous mums exploding towards us in a vast space (Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica).

Nature is simplified in early modern fashion, then its color is juiced up a few notches in Neo-Impressionist manner in Angela Perko’s landscapes. These are quite civil images, given the familiar points of reference, and the ambiance of the Santa Barbara locale that it draws on. Their formal character is well calibrated to move the eye around. She is particularly drawn to delineate forms and modulate their tones to lend it a stained glass effect (Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery, Santa Barbara).

Angela Perko, "Sycamore Grove,"
2004, oil on canvas, 30 x 24".

Left to right: Clay Figure, Ethiopia (childhood); Ibibio Puppet, Nigeria (adolescence),
Ire Ibeji, Nigeria (marriage), Giryama Memorial Post, Kenya (death). Photos: Lee Choo.

“Children are the rewards of life,” proclaims a Mende proverb embedded in the opening section of African Art in the Life Cycle, a thematically displayed exhibition of objects from more than fourteen African nations. Youngsters’ inventive transformations of scavenged or recycled materials into playthings are the focus of the first section of the show. Bottle caps, tin cans, feathers and bits of wood or scraps of fabric are willed into dolls, trucks, purses or games. Joyous colors, textures, shapes, lines and patterns continue to delight the eye in the collections of masks, fabrics, basketry, jewelry and photographs depicting social status, initiations and rites of passage into adolescence, marriage, parenthood and death, the other life stages examined here. Text panels and maps encourage further study of the rituals and traditions illustrated in this striking exhibition of over 200 objects (CSU Northridge Art Gallery, Valley).

Stanton Macdonald-Wright,
"Conception Synchromy," 1914,
oil on canvas, 36 x 30 1/8".

Jennifer Steinkamp (Bryan Brown,
sound), "Swell," 1995, computer generated
projection and installation with soundtrack.
Visual Music is a dynamic and satisfying exhibition that presents both static and animated works from the 1800’s to the present. Viewing time can increase substantially if you take in even a portion of the film and video on display, but the quality of much of it will leave you humming. The exhibition begins with a room of abstract films in which colors and form dance across the screen, often to jazz music but at other times to silence. This opening is followed by galleries of both abstract and musically themed works. Artists include Wassily Kandinsky, Man Ray, Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keeffe and many other modernist artists who directly or indirectly invoked aural source and meaning in the creation of their visual art. A number of projection rooms have been set up to show works by artists working with film such as Oskar Fischinger, Thomas Wilfred and John and James Whitney. The exhibition closes with contemporary installation works, including projections by Jennifer Steincamp and Cindy Bernard (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Downtown).

San Francisco based video artist Kota Ezawa uses the media as his source. Ezawa transforms the veracity of his subjects into flat, two-dimensional graphics that reduce the source to basic formal elements. For this installation he uses the late Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” as his point of departure in what amounts to an homage to Sontag and the importance of this key book to the critical dialogue that surrounds how we look at and interpret imagery. Thinking about how an image is described, Ezawa decided to present a selection of well- and lesser known images from the history of photography as a series of flat graphics. Removing the details from the images, he turns them into drawings.

Kota Ezawa, still from "On
Photography," 2005, slide
installation, dimensions variable.
These drawings or graphic representations are then transformed into slides. The installation consists of a single slide projector in a darkened room that continuously loops the twenty slides (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Long Nguyen, "Tales of Yellow Skin
#45," 2001, oil on canvas, 66 x 60".
The color yellow appears to begin as a simple field in Long Nguyen’s “Yellow Skin” paintings. But by the time he works it over anything can, and seemingly does happen. In Nguyen’s hands hat monochrome field is fecund with biological and floral associations, fantasy musings, topographical meanderings and more. It seems that Nguyen has recently pushed the level and quality of detail well beyond earlier work, with its stronger emphasis on bringing forth wounds of his youth (perhaps to help excise them). The greater intricacy and delicacy achieves a feeling of energy that is in harmony with itself. Not only are the results inviting to view and delve into, but they convincingly document a slow journey out of a personal hell (Bamboo Lane, Downtown).

The physical quality of paper, paper as an object, is treated with exceptional seriousness and even reverence by Eleanor Wood. These abstract and essentially monochromatic images immediately conjure the spirit of Agnes Martin, but Wood seems to approach individual works as a new problem. This results in much more varied and, in context, quietly eccentric visual solutions. We are informed that the back of the papers often receive as much work and attention as the front that is on view. The blend of architectonic structure and very restrained yet plentiful lyrical detail is central to the character of this work (ANDLAB, Downtown).

Eleanor Wood, "Configuration,"
1991, pigment/graphite/acrylic
on paper, 33 1/2 x 43 1/2".