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October 20 - November 24, 2007 at L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice

by John O'Brien

In his body of new work, Tony Bevan works with visual motifs that have been at the center of his attention for some years. Both the figure and, in particular heads (his own generally), and the various iterations of domestic architectural constructions such as tables and shelves are treated vigorously and with a kind of muscular painting style that borders on the gruff. His abrupt manner of drawing (whether in charcoal or handmade pigment and medium) may seem brusque, but it is in the same process we see in an architect like Rafael Moneo, described as a brutalist with regard to his Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. Both artist and architect seem intent on eschewing any unnecessary embellishments. Both address space and forms in an intensely physical manner. That this approach draws the viewer into the realm of the psychological is a sign of success.

Bevan's heads are cropped to appear bodiless. His contour lines are etched into the surface of each head as though every nerve ganglion and muscle fiber under the surface of the skin were enlarged and tattooed on the surface. Both vulnerable and menacing at the same time, these rather large compositions effectively navigate between figuration and abstraction. It is particularly interesting to follow his evolution and observe how he moves back and forth between using more recognizable figurative modes and the more gestural approach of placing the accent on the act of drawing or painting lines.

Bevan's work is distinctive not only because of this line work, but also due to his self imposed limits with regards to the color palette and through the way he builds texture. The palette consists in reds, oranges (verging on fleshy and pink at times) and black (with some off whites). Through this limitation that he sets for himself Bevan focuses your eye on the strength of his forms. To give his line work texture, the artist mixes raw pigment with an acrylic medium that he then applies directly to the canvas either with the stiffened bristles of a brush stump or by working directly with a chunk of charcoal. The grainy residue in both cases forms dense, scrumbly lines that trap the negative space in his forms and brings them to the fore.

“Head and Neck (PC071),” 2007,
acrylic & charcoal on paper, 48 x 34”.

"Room (PC075)," 2007
acrylic & charcoal on
canvas, 65 1/4 x 101 3/4"

"Table Top (PC0610)," 2006
acrylic on canvas, 63 1/2 x 83 1/4".

"Studio Tower (PC0713)," 2007,
acrylic & charcoal on canvas, 144 x 98".

Taking the negative compositional space and making it the protagonist of his art is central to his still life "shelf" and "table" paintings as well. The "shelf" paintings look like rudimentary towers, each with a large, vertical agglomeration of linear shapes that evoke both scaffolding and the internal frame of a building. Studio interiors include tabletop studies drawn from arrangements of stuff in his studio. Seemingly random clusters of lines are deduced from forms taken from accumulations on a table. By drawing a simple horizon line/plateau with this accretion on top of it, he suggests an abstract landscape, architectural study or even just a pile of debris. Reminiscent of Alexander Liberman's photographs of the distressed tools laid out on Alberto Giacometti's studio tables, there is an inherent homage to the majesty of work at play throughout this exhibition. Bevan, like most intent on the philosophy underlying the everyday, doesn't require a huge lexicon of images to reflect upon, rather he chooses a few variables and then mines them profoundly and poetically.