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May, 2008

The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present confirms both a history and imagery that has gone unacknowledged--the presence of Africans in Mexico. With a timeline that spans from the arrival of the Spainards and Colonization, through independence, dictators, and the present day, the exhibition includes portrait, racial castas paintings, religious objects, works by the venerated Elizabeth Catlett, and contemporary assemblage artist Carlos Cons’ (b. 1975) sculptural work on the sugar cane industry. The syncretic coupling of the indigenous, the Spanish, and the African resulted in periods of social upheaval and, as this show attests, powerful works of art. An eye-opener. A counterpoint exhibition to the more historically oriented “African Presence,” Common Ground presents the work of 20 contemporary black and latino/a artists whose works affirmatively examine their own cultural hybridity. (California African American Museum, Downtown).

Maximino Javier, "Indecisive
Chacmool," 2002, oil on canvas.

Salomon Huerta, "Untitled (Wrestler),"
2007, oil on panel, 14 x 11".
Brilliantly colored leather masks worn by luchados, (Mexican wrestlers), simultaneously conceal and embolden those who suffer and inflict pain behind them. Salomon Huerta employs his representations of these masks in his latest investigation of identity. The anonymity of his earlier portraits served as a mirror onto which you would project your own prejudices and values, thus calling into question the veritable nature of identity. “Mask” asks the same questions, this time dramatized by the transformative motifs that furbish the luchador’s flashy attire. Designed to signify valor and brawn, cutouts in the masks frame glimpses of pridefully defiant stares or agonized, convoluted flesh. The mystery and truth lies beneath the mask, tantalizingly within such limited visual clues. In the east gallery, two bronze sculptures, glistening under buffed coats of automotive paint, perfectly mimic the wrestler’s leather masks, exhibiting shifts of color as riveting as Huerta’s portrayals of the persona of the warriors who masquerade behind them (Patrick Painter, Inc., Santa Monica).

In her 50 year career, Betty Sheinbaum has produced ceramics, has painted abstractly, has worked with photographs and made huge sculptures. Each show she produces brings her a step forward. In her current exhibition of paintings, titled “Beach to Beach,” there is the softness of Impressionism carefully observed then wedded to that quick handed but solid abstraction that calls to mind David Hockney. Scenes of beachgoers and buildings overlooking coasts both oscillate, as if light moves through them, while they also stay put in the way Cézanne would require form do. The fusion shows how underlying vision and our subjective take on things there is something emotional and structural that is stable and enduring.

Betty Sheinbaum, "Family at the Table," acrylic on canvas, 20 1/2 x 32 1/2".
This quality of capturing both motion and stasis is best seen in a scene of white boats moored with dots of people stopped in time. In a view of women made from daubs of color layered intricately and methodically to get just the right hue--event, really--of new white skin in seering sun (TAG, The Artists Gallery, Santa Monica).

Catherine Opie, "Footbal Landscape #5 (Juneau vs.
Douglas, Juneau, Alaska)," 2007, C-print, 48 x 64".
The lights shining down from the ceiling track of the gallery echo those illuminating the action on the dark playing fields in six large C prints by Catherine Opie depicting nighttime high school football games. Sited across the longest wall of the gallery, the 48” by 64” prints pull the viewer towards the landscapes where adolescent boys test each other as they grow into the shoulder pads they strap on as both protective shell and proof of their manhood. Individual portraits of Marcus, Blake and 20 other football players identified by their first names, encircle the gallery. Grouped tightly, like images in a yearbook, they cluster around half a dozen large daytime and evening depictions of embattled high school teams from all over America.
Opie unmasks signs of the young players’ vulnerability and/or tough determination as she integrates portrait photography into the landscape in this astute investigation of community (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Karen Halverson shows very accomplished large format light jet color prints of the Colorado River. This could be very calendar-y type art because of the over sampled subject and the “snap” of the color photo media she has selected to use here. However, in the hand of this renowned landscape photographer the rust rocks, the narrow crevices and the slivers of water seen from a distance retain an amazing grandeur. Part of the power of the images is that while they amaze our eye, there is a crucial undercurrent of content relating to the Colorado River as the timeless signifier of the vast West. The images and their associations sweep through and over ideas ranging from Manifest Destiny, to spunky pioneers; from fading natural resources, to the well earned leisure of the beleaguered middle class workers. The artist gives us views from high up, from close in (she trekked through these terrains to get many of these shots), and from deep in the waters where she actually rafted. In a print titled “Davis Gulch, Lake Powell, Utah,” she perches us on a thin rock overhang tucked deep in a red granite face. We stop with her to contemplate the green river passing just below. This is what makes these works compelling beyond cliché: her closeness with her subject, and her ability to share that convincingly with us (Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood)

Karen Halverson, “Davis Gulch,
Lake Powell, Utah,” light jet print.

Heather Brown’s solo show is like a road map to the most important architecture on Earth, the kind of places that would actually answer those all important questions of life--if only they really existed. Because these spaces can’t exist, and because we are all floundering about between the known and the unknowable, the paintings create a sense of existential sadness. But while there is an embedded struggle abounding here, it is not a Sisyphusian one. There are moments of pure joy and exhilaration in both color and gesture that reflect on the reasons we keep asking the hard questions (Black Dragon Society, Downtown).

Heather Brown, "Sacred Geometry",
2008 oil on canvas, 36 " x 36"

The more than 40-year career of Bernd and Hilla Becher (Bernd passed away last year) helps mark the origins of conceptual photography; that is, photography that challenged the reportorial and truth function of the camera. By conflating deadpan geometries that they found in banal industrial architecture--doors, water reservoirs, facades--with the stark formalism of the grid, the pair made us think about a variety of concepts that came to be central to Post Modern photographic practice. Among the visual lessons to be learned in this fine overview: The camera at its most objective does not just record “fact;” the formal and conceptual not only can be but almost always are highly metaphoric and even ideological; the blight of industrialization, taken for granted by the 1980s, offered an ordered, if deeply empty symmetry (The Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

In addition to the meticulous technique reflective of an artist who is disciplined and acutely thoughtful, Tula Telfair makes these landscapes from her imagination. Indeed, she invents every scene from a mixture of reason and desire. What that means is she is fully aware of hand-eye skill, fully versed in the traditional tropes of landscape painting. She knows Renaissance Humanist landscapes where figures are writ large in the land and, through the magic of one point perspective, tell us that the world of man and the world of saints intersect. She also knows Dutch landscapes, in which the religious philosophy of Nominalism demanded a microscopically detailed expanse where Man was dwarfed in the face of the natural Divine. Telfair rendered us both small specks and God’s eye observers in turn. Historical tropes are used, fully understood and then beautifully amended in landscapes which, like Nicholas Pousssin’s, come from the mind, not the eye. They function as emblems of deep concepts rather than odes to observational accuracy. This is amply evident in “Refers to Meanings Outside Itself,” an image of lone icy peaks that is more about pristine Platonic purity than geography, tourist escapes, or eco-global politics. You could say these are journeys into surreal airless spaces more ideal than Freudian (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Tula Telfair, "Within the Reality of
Ideas II," 2008, oil on canvas, 60 x 60".

Ned Evans, "Got Red," acrylic on panel, 80 x 90".
Growing up along the beaches of California, Ned Evans developed his passion for the Pacific coastline from on top of a surfboard. It is a passion that continues to captivate and inspire him, and is why he insists on dividing his time between the studio and the surfboard still. So it is no wonder that his paintings continue to echo that organic union of sky and sea that has been his life’s backdrop since birth. Brilliant swaths of color sweep vertically through the 23 canvases that comprise the show, evoking the works of abstract forefathers like Gene Davis or Ed Moses, under whom he studied. Yet, Evans’ works lack the solemn austerity that can often accompany a color field painting. Instead, his vivid sweeps of color emit an ease and fluidity like those found in nature’s contrasts. In “Decadi”, the cool bright blues flow effortlessly into the warm reds and oranges. Each composition seems to be moving in sync, to its own inherent rhythm, as if the artist had only been a conduit in its creation. Evans likens his painting to his surfing thus: “It’s not conscious--it just happens for me. . .It’s about getting lost. . .” (William Turner Gallery, Santa Monica).

David McDonald continues to describe time, decay, history, and regeneration in his sumptuous new work. McDonald has a rare ability to take weighty (both physically and psychically) material like concrete, driftwood and plywood to produce some of the most delicate and loveliest imagery imaginable. His abstractions manage to make one somehow both heavy of heart and giddy. The pieces work expertly in the smaller room of the gallery, a wise choice that insists that you address each work individually. Both the sculptures and the paintings are part of a series McDonald has been working on for some time, but these have loosed up and are more gestural. The star of the show is “UN,” a pairing of a pale blue canvas and a floor-based sculpture that addresses archaeological time, our own instance, and the celestial abyss (Jancar Gallery, Midtown).

David McDonald “The Darkness Doubled,”
2007, mixed media, 42 x 26 x 19”.

Gary Komarin, "Rue Madame in Red 17,"
mixed media on canvas, 72 x 48".
Curiosity and eagerness to push the limits of the accepted abstract idiom may be a shared quality among them, but Gary Komarin, Steven Seinberg, Amadea Bailey, and Sabine Tress each go about his or her artistic journey in a refreshingly unique and genuine manner. In Komarin’s “In the French Hotel”, the viewer is drawn into the neutral toned, textured background by irregular bright red and blue shapes at the center, and the black outlined images on either side of the canvas because they appear familiar. But first notions are here misleading. A spectrum of possibilities arises out of the ambiguity of symbol. Tress achieves spontaneity and abandonment in her work through her bold use of color. Bailey concocts an ideological hopscotch thanks to the fluidity of movement with which she paints her studies of faces. Perhaps, most dissimilar in tone, though still akin in concept are Seinberg’s canvas and paper works. What could at first glance appear monochromatic actually plays within a complex spectrum of color. A poet as well as a painter, Seinberg intricately explores that which is left unspoken in his paintings. On their own, each artist brings a vulnerable and personal voice to their work capable of inspiring a critique of your own ideas of perception and reality. Taken together, they possess a power that demands it (Lowe Gallery, Santa Monica).

Ceramic sculpture is one of those art forms that polarizes viewers. With clay, nothing is ever one simple thing; there is no one over-arching theory, nor one defining moment that can be readily mastered. But there are many stereotypes, and one of the best known is that of the humble potter who accepts whatever the clay and kiln offer back. “Into the Woods, a Fiery Tale” shines a light on wood-fired ceramic sculpture. Wood firing is a Japanese tradition, done in a multi-chambered kiln that fires over many days. As wood ash builds up it reacts with the glazes to produce special effects. The installation engages you with the particularities of each surface treatment. By marrying attractive objects with effective wall didactics, the experience of both the spiritual and historical aspects of this time-honored technique are enhanced. Fred Olsen’s precise works feel ephemeral, with the wood firing marks seeming like ghostly kisses. Catharine Hiersoux’s chunky, scooped-out, rock-like forms each read like a watery oasis. Chris Gustin’s immense rotund forms explore the sculptural line and where edges meet. Peter Callas’ masculine forms reflect an appreciation for the rustic and often appear to be caught in the midst of some transformative event (American Museum of Ceramic Art [AMOCA], Pomona).

Peter Callas, "Untitled Doubleneck
Vessel," wood fired ceramic.

Don Ryan, "Chupu", cired ceramic 'vessel', 28 x 9 x 18".
The group show Fred’s Friends refers to Frederick Olsen’s sculpture kilns, the use of which unites a circle of stylistically diverse artists. Highlighted are potters and artists who have participated in group firings, and whose work has been shaped by Olsen’s vast knowledge and global contacts. The invited artists each display several works. The show’s atmosphere manages to call up this camaraderie of ceramic art, and it is unique in character and vision (Armstrong’s Gallery, Pomona).

We have been fascinated by Peter Shelton’s category defying anthropomorphic shapes in huge scale for decades. Traditionally made from a translucent polyurethane that invokes human viscera, Shelton’s most recent room-sized work is rendered in dense and weighty bronze and stands at about eight feet. With round, huge billowing chambers that sprout truncated branches pointing up and down, the bulbous bladders and their gaping holes remind one of an abstracted look at massive heart valves. Without mentioning anything human in particular, this work yet again manages to reference everything that is about life--expansion, growth, air in, air out--without ever being figurative. These vessels look like enlarged internal vacuoles that that push and pump the stuff of existence. But rendered in metal, Shelton’s references to the bodily become more complex.

Peter Shelton, "dogstar," cast bronze.
In “dogstar” there is the sense of not just a biological system, but huge furnaces, equipment, and the increasingly thin membrane between man and machine (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).