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April 11 - May 20, 2006 at George Billis Gallery, Culver City

by Mat Gleason

The architectural landscapes of painter Rick Monzon appear, at first glance, to be surreal dreamscapes that remind us of where we might have been.  They are realistically rendered but with a subtle tweak to it, a ripple, a whirl, a mild shudder within the ostensible frame of reference.  The possibility exists that they include a casual commentary on the impossible perfection sought by suburbia, as rendering them without his trademark whirl would make the paintings mundane.

Beyond the commentary on suburbia that meanders under the surface, the warp in Monzon’s work does function to shake loose our accepted views of quaint landscapes.  His dramatic skies are pregnant with portension and his foliage moves seemingly against the wind, creating in a fresh way the kind of tension that classic painting technique has delivered by the use of dramatic shadow for centuries.  Monzon’s drama is darker in both form and mood than the techniques of chiaroscuro.  These suburban portraits are subtly menacing.  Anyone with even a casual familiarity with the contemporary Southern California landscape cannot help but be moved toward some degree of queasiness or unease upon viewing this subtle re-presentation of ordinary architecture made marvelous and tense with a smooth, wide ripple.

Art that packs this intense a provocation of thought and emotion is rare, especially when such art is accompanied by accessible imagery and economic, subtle composition.  These paintings provoke divided responses.  I’ve seen a single Monzon house-scape frighten one escapee of suburbia, who swore the images revealed a haunted and dark mystery looming as a dramatic prequel of awaiting horrors; then the same picture delighted another former subdivision dweller, who felt Monzon’s trademark swirl to be far less foreboding.  Some see it that swirl as simply underscoring the natural passing of time from long ago in that far-away innocent bedroom community to the terra firma present.  The playing with notions of Memory Lane is an essential component of this work, no matter whether one counts one’s self among the mildly terrified or the pleasantly misty-eyed.  The artist delivers a broad range of possibility, and never conscripts one to feeling left out.

“Bryter Later," 2004, oil
on panel, 26 x 18”.

“Cricklewood Green," 2005,
oil on panel, 8 x 16”.

“The Width of a Circle, 2005,
oil on panel, 12 x 19”.

In an age that has seen architects bully their way onto the fine art stage, Monzon’s paintings are masterful in their assertion of the imaginative primacy of visual art over the quasi-permanent experiential bombast of architecture.  This is a painter who puts architecture squarely in its lesser place--to serve as a function of our interactive psyche, not as a dictator, ruling over it.  In terms of their scale, these paintings assert that visual culture is at its best as an intimate experience; they embrace the confines of limited space as a tradeoff which allows the medium to best present limitless possibilities to the mind of the viewer.  In scope, though, this epic work recasts the edifices that would regulate our daily lives as markers of the personal dramas on which we embark every day.

Also on view are a series of paintings by Nolina Burge entitled “Wood” based on her large collection of Polaroids. The artist is enamored with trees, and these are not presented as landscapes, but as explorations of our relationship with these singular entities. They serve here as metaphors for a variety of emotions, and further explore connections with ourselves, our environment, and the community at large. Her editing of the images and the flattening of space gives the works an eerie, somewhat surreal feeling. While the imagery is everyday, the presentation creates tension, giving the works their edginess. It is this very sense of unease that makes them enticing.