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May, 2006

Ruth Weisberg’s long mural-length paintings touch on themes that may seem somewhat biblical, but they end up being grand narratives that have recurred again and again in the history, cosmology and fiction of numerous cultures.  “New Beginnings” is taken from a nearly 30-foot mural Weisberg will install at the UJA Federation in New York.  Done in a kind of monochromatic tone that blends a multitude of scenes--all masterfully drafted, as is Weisberg’s way--you glimpse, between the strokes, vestiges of travel across rough seas, of people huddled on plank ways of ancient or immigrant ships.  It is all kept very open so as to put us in mind of all these millennial diasporas.  Children and mothers huddle, strong men guide and the sense of it all hovers somewhere between an evacuation, and an arrival to a new homeland where hope is reborn (Jack Rutberg Fine Art, West Hollywood).

Ruth Weisberg, “Keep the Gates Open”, 2004,
oil and mixed media on canvas, 39 1/4 X 54".

Fred Stonehouse, "Alioto" 2006 acrylic on panel 16" x 16".
It is hard to find a way to describe the work of Fred Stonehouse, and that might mean he has something fresh to show.  Imagine a doodling Tim Burton crossed with Bosch and you have some idea of how quirky this work is.  Banners and wood panels are painted with images that look like demented ‘50s ads. . .under the influence of LSD.  “Frutti Proibiti” (these nutty words, suggesting “forbidden fruit,” are scrawled in dripping paint, as if the text never had a chance to dry) shows a scary  little devil/gnome in baker’s suit, pointed ears, jet black skin and red eyes glowing as he holds a chocolate cake for your enticement.  
In “The Smile of Winter” a caricaturish masked and giant head of a crying child pops up out of a watery ravine as it sprouts Bambi antlers and ears.  If the works were not so good, if the “outsider” style painting weren’t so advanced, this stuff would be downright creepy.  On second thought, maybe it’s good because it IS so creepy (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

Entitled “Sheep of Fools,” this two person exhibition of works by New York-based Sue Coe and Boston-based Amy Ross focus on how animals and humans interact.  Coe, long familiar for her politically charged drawings and illustrations, looks at the sheep farming industry and depicts the abuse of both the workers and the animals as a product of corporate greed.  Her detailed and dark drawings express the pain and the fear in the animals.  Amy Ross’ works are painted directly on the gallery walls.  Her sepia toned images fill the space, inviting viewers in for close scrutiny. More whimsical than Coe’s, they also are political in nature.  Ross is interested in issues of animal cloning, and her works morph plant life and animals--suggesting what could go wrong if the people of science are not careful (Overtones, Culver City).

Sue Coe, “Truck Accident,” 2004,
graphite, gouache & watercolor on
white Strathmore bristol board, 29" x 23".

Amy Maloof, from the series “2
Car Garage,” 2005, mixed media.

Ben Shaffer, “Meditation
Machine,” 2005, wood, mirrors.

Guest curator Meg Cranston chose an appropriate site, UC Riverside’s newly relocated Sweeney Gallery, to bring attention to the of work eight artists dedicated to examining the premise that art can promote positive transformations in society.  In a bold move, architect Peter Zellner integrated the gallery into the future of urban redevelopment with his revitalization of an early 20th century bank building in the heart of downtown Riverside’s pedestrian mall.  The artists who comprise People for a Better Tomorrow began instigating social interaction with their neighbors via the “take something/leave something” object and data exchanges they activated at several local eating establishments as well as the gallery site.  Everlovely Lightningheart’s motion sensitive drum and The Center for Tactical Magic’s ice cream unit (a mobile distribution center for cool treats and information) both lured crowds to the new space on opening weekend.  Once inside, viewers encountered works such as Amy Maloof’s recasts of garage sale landscape images, and Ben Shaffer’s orchestrated reshuffles of iPod music via reinvented speakers.  Along with intriguing film, video and mixed media work by other artists, they fulfill Cranston’s quest to give “joyful expression to life in all its tragic and preposterous forms” (UC Riverside, Sweeny Art Gallery, Riverside).

Steve Roden "human scale (my body floating over the
silent world, where bells sound like rainbows)," 2005,
oil/acrylic/ink/bees wax/polyurethane on linen. 66" x 66".
Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Samantha Thomas "Root System,"
2006, oil/enamel/acrylic and spray-
paint on canvas, 90 x 75".
Courtesy Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica.

[Keep Feeling] Fascination: Recent Abstract Painting in L.A. is a group exhibition featuring the work of twelve artists exploring notions of what it means to make abstract painting in the twenty-first century. These artists, whose colorful, shape-filled works very much enliven the gallery space, are concerned with the formal as well psychological issues of abstraction.  Noteworthy are Steve Roden’s compositions inspired by music; Kris Chatterson’s lush, fluid paintings in which wide brush stokes dart across the canvas; and David McDonald’s subtle explorations of form and color (Cal State L.A, Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

Jacquelyn McBain, “Saint Gabriel:  Annunciation
to a Leaf Insect,” 1997, oil on wood, 8 1/2 x 8 1/2”.
Bugology, curated by Tricia Watts, is an investigation into how artists delve into the subject of insects as evidenced in the work of fifteen contemporary Southern California artists. The works range from more traditional representations of nature, as in the black and white macro-photography of Joel Glassman, to the ongoing experiments of Tera Galanti to genetically re-fit a species of live silk moths with the ability to fly.  Of particular note are the highly detailed Old Master-styled paintings of insects as saints by Jacquelyn McBain; the sumptuous and beguiling brocades of insects and paint by Sylvia Tidwell; and the room-sized installation by Nick Taggart and Laura Cooper with drawings, paintings and costumes in which they create a garden of transfigured bug-like creatures (Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena).

Boundaries and suburban sprawl, displacement and quick mobility are all symbolized by L.A.’s favorite object: the car.  For decades Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan has been making 3-D sculptural “carritos,” (literally, “little cars”) to suggest all those ideas, as well as recalling for us the sub-cultural icon of the barrio low rider.  The fuzzy tassels on the rear view mirror have become spinners of 20 inches, but some things never cease to please: Lujan’s colorfully painted,

Gilbert "Magu" Lujan, "Limozltan," 2006, painted sculpture.
cartoon-like vehicles sitting on stands or floor-bound still get a smile as they fuse our city-wide freeway experience with the distinctly Chicano lowered “Chevy” (The Folk Tree, Pasadena).

Ken Light, "Fred" from "Coal
Hollow," 2005, photograph.
Miners have always lived on the periphery of health and life.  But now with the help of instant web and CNN, the spate of recent disasters in mines, as well as the the greed and energy addiction behind them are brought into focus belatedly.  Containing images from the 2006 book “Coal Hollow: Photographs and Oral Histories” by Ken Light, the works in this show candidly frame lives in Appalachia that are both shaped and destroyed by the very resource on which this empire was built.  Nor is this one of those simplistic poor-folk-against-the-bad-guys visual clichés.  We see the pathetic coal baron, we see people who have tried to leave the mines only to return because opportunity elsewhere was more hype than real; we see a writer/miner advocate who is heroic but hapless in the end.  These images tap the whole complexity of the issue in formally compelling scenes (Track 16, Santa Monica).

A treasure of an exhibition, Agitated Images: John Heartfield & German Photomontage, 1920-1938 is about the work of John Heartfield, a pioneer of modern photomontage who worked in Germany and Czechoslovakia between the two world wars.  He developed a unique method of appropriating and modifying photographs, turning them into powerful political statements.  To compose his works he chose recognizable press photographs of politicians or events from the mainstream illustrated press and then disassembled, rearranged and superimposed other elements over these images to substantially transform their meaning.  Included is the famous “Adolf, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin” (1932), in which the artist inlaid into a widely published photograph of Hitler the image of a chest X-ray.  The politician, soon-to-turn dictator, can be seen swallowing the large contributions of wealthy industrialists while speaking in the workingman’s rhetoric of socialism (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

Clay coated wood panels give these images of women an archeological feel, the look of suspended time.  That’s consistent with the artist’s intentions, as Robin Palanker hopes to portray the “eternal feminine” (to use popular Da Vinci Code terms) as found in women friends from her immediate environment, doing nothing in particular.  The portraits are animated and unposed, which makes it easier to warm up to some.  The busy density of her materials--drawings piled with mixed media such as graphite, watercolor, gouache and even clumps of glitter--sometimes distracts from the human and heroic quality she’s after in what she calls her everyday “goddesses” (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monica).

Robin Palanker, "Daisy K,"
2006, mixed media, 12 x 9".

Terry Evans,"Demolition of Public Housing,
Roosevelt and Racine, Chicago, May 21,
2003," 2003 archival inkjet, 19 x 19".
Terry Evans’ new work depicts Chicago from the air.  Her large scale color photographs were taken from small planes, helicopters and hot air balloons.  Looking down on the city she frames buildings and people in compositional abstractions.   Her work is graphic and detailed.  It flattens space in the way many large format photographs do, creating a sense of dislocation. Evans captures the density of the city as well as the open space of the parks and beach areas. Her view of Chicago is open ended, showing both the beauty as well as the effects of suburban sprawl.  That the images are are beautiful can not be denied, yet Evans is interested in the effects of the post-industrial economy and the changes in urban life (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

The narrow dimensions make them look like long vertical stripes, the colors like a shower of confetti, and the gobs of acrylic are like fruit leather.  Richard Allen Morris’ brand of eye candy sets up this challenge:  how much visual incident can be squeezed onto the head of a pin?  The effect of walking into a roomful of these impastoed dandies will immediately either put a smile on your face or raise your hackles.  But the decorative indulgence is beside the point.  Let yourself get your nose up to these things, then step back again so you can go along on Morris’ ride.  His deft brush takes us to a surprisingly wide variety of places without having appeared to have done very much (Mandarin Gallery, Downtown).

Richard Allen Morris, "Egyptian" (detail),
2000, acrylic on wood, 35 1/4 x 3 1/2".

Markus Draper, "Steilwand," 2006, oil
and acrylic on canvas, 66 x 46 1/2".
Two German artists make a good showing; Markus Draper through an installation work called “My Utopia Never Gonna Work (Pain),” which was first shown at the Prague Biennial in 2005.  This work includes haphazard constructed wood structures that make you think of dilapidation, ruin and decay, with adjacent paintings that seem like matching collaged graffiti.  Dresden-based Thoralf Knobloch makes oil on canvas paintings taken from very carefully shot and composed city photos.  As he copies the photos in paint, the goal is not to record, but to achieve through abstraction the same sense of urban distraction achieved by Draper. In one work, wood steps shot from way below rise up like a skyscraper or a stepped temple (Sandroni Rey Gallery, Culver City).

Stately, semi transparent columns of hanging textiles frame the entrance to this exquisitely installed survey of more than fifty fabrics created by modernist designer Jack Lenor Larsen.  Integrated into the exhibition are nearly eighty objects that have inspired Larsen’s work, selected from his personal collection housed at Long House Reserve in New York.  Artifacts by native craftsmen from around the world are exhibited along with ceramics, basketry, sculpture and two-dimensional pieces by celebrated artists such as Peter Voulkos and Dale Chihuly.  All are grouped into four categories that focus on Larsen’s fascination and experimentation with light and translucency, surface and texture, pattern and color, and form and structure.  For those who simply can’t resist the tactile allure of Larsen’s fabrics, a touch gallery of eighteen squares of fabric is also provide (Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs).

Jack Lenor Larsen, "Cumulus, 1991,
saran, polyethylene monofilaments,
woven, heat-shrunk.
Photograph, Richard Goodbody.

Charles Long, "100 lbs. of Clay,"
2006, interactive installation.
Charles Long is not acting in the California tradition of ceramics.  The operative word here is “clay,” not to confused with “ceramics.”  The artist provides viewers with blocks of modeling clay, a total of one hundred pounds of red, yellow, blue, gray, turquoise, and magenta colors, a table to work on, and a set of one hundred pedestals for the finished works of art.  Once completed, the creation is placed on a small wooden block, cantilevered out from the wall on a humble Home Depot bracket.  Each block of wood has a puck light underneath, spotlighting the clay art below.  The result is a highly efficient, economically sensible experiment in the making and redefinition of art.  Everyone is allowed to not only touch but also to destroy and remake someone else’s labors.  But this being a museum, the interdiction against vandalism, even in the cause of conceptual art, must be weighed against the desire, experienced by all, to break taboos, to touch and feel the art (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).

Daniel Brice’s mid-sized charcoal on paper drawings are made up of suggestive lines on white fields. The ribbons of charcoal make you think of Agnes Martin grids crossed with Barnett Newman zips.  The lines are soft but minimalist, and divide the white space into a huge crevice in rock, a fault in a dry river bed, the bend in a thigh or an opening in the sky.  It displays great skill to accomplish such varied ideas with such simple forms (d.e.n contemporary, Culver City).

Daniel Brice, "Untitled #4," 2005,
charcoal on paper, 39 x 29 3/4".

Kim McCarty, "Untitled (Brown Green
Figure)," 2006, watercolor, 40 x 26".
Kim McCarty has been painting images of children for many years.  Her depictions of sad, emaciated boys and girls recall those of Egon Schiele, but her figures are not as tortured.  Painted in saturated colors on watercolor paper, McCarty lets the medium suggest the curves and details of the body.  Each figure fills the space of the page and peers out as if longing to emerge from the surface and engage in life. McCarty’s works stop time, suggesting a moment of transition and becoming--the moment between being a child and an adult.  The works are melancholic and startling in the honest emotions she is able to draw from the unforgiving medium of watercolor (Cherry and Martin, Venice).

A selection of about twenty prints, drawings, and a bronze serves as a refresher course on Henri Matisse’s mastery of line.  Whether a sparse series of marks to describe a head, an elaborate arrangement of tones, or a rhythmic articulation of a figure and background, these examples combine a highly analytical formalism with a degree of sensuality and warmth that looks relaxed and easy--and is anything but.  The works here that develop particulars of volume and surface texture, such as “Grand odalisque a la culotte bayadere” serve to connect Matisse’s fundamental vision to a more public performance, but one of Matisse’s achievements was that his studies maintain a degree of completeness on their own.  While most of the works here fall into the time period between the two World Wars, a handful date from the Fauve period, as early as the small striding nude of 1906 (but cast in the 1930s), “Nu Campe Bras sur la Tete” (Leslie Sacks Fine Art, West Los Angeles).

Henri Matisse, "Grande odalisque á la
culotte bayadére," 1925, lithograph
on China paper, 21 1/4 x 17 15/16".

Arshile Gorky, "The Artist and His Mother,"
ca. 1926-42, oil on canvas, 60 x 50".
© 2006 Artists Rights Society, New York.
Can we get enough Gorky? Vosdanik Manouk Adoian, better known as Arshile Gorky is that eccentric, self-made persona who came as an Armenian émigré and single handedly gave the US its first taste of biomorphic surrealism.  A number of textbook paintings and drawings by Gorky are on view, lent by such august collections as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, LACMA, and our own Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, where we saw Gorky last year, though on a much smaller scale.  Co-sponsored by the Armenian Museum, the show gathers a top notch, retrospective-scope show with a number of the artist’s signature works (Fresno Art Museum, Fresno).