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September 13 - October 18, 2008 at Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica

by Ray Zone

"Durian," 2007, acrylic lacquer
onvacuum-formed Plexiglas,
32 x 42 x 12".

"Untitled (Donut)," 2001, acrylic
lacquer on vacuum-formed
Plexiglas, 35 1/2 x 32 x 5 1/2".

“Mangosteen,” 2008, acrylic lacquer
on vacuum-formed Plexiglas,
23 3/4 x 25 3/4 x 9 1/2".

All photos by Vicki Phung

Veteran Los Angeles artist Craig Kauffman reaffirms his significance with a new exhibit playfully titled “Bubbles, Donuts, Dishes: A Survey of Recent Wall Relief Sculpture.”  Kauffman has been prodigiously refining his oeuvre for over half a century now, and it may be stated without exaggeration that his vacuum-formed Plexiglas wall reliefs have assumed iconic status for Los Angeles art.

Though the exhibit title references objects that assume functionality in the real world, Kauffman’s wall-hung objects are anything but mundane.  They are at once visually engaging, sensuous to the eyes, and yet remote, alien in their non-utilitarian and defiantly abstract integrity.  There is an inherent contradiction, a wordless paradox, at the heart of their appeal.  They have apparently simple geometry that is given highly sophisticated expression through industrial vacuum-forming technology.  Hexagons and circles are most certainly present, but hard-edges are elided in favor of curving surfaces, perfections of roundness.  Only high-technology, at the service of an independent mind, could create these eccentric shapes and surfaces with their shining precision.

To these curvilinear surfaces and sloping volumes the artist applies layers of translucent paint with an airbrush, building shimmering lights within the object. This metallic iridescence invites repeated viewing.  Its reflectivity is organic, and the colors change with the environment and time of day.  The work is hung at slightly below eye level. The high gloss surfaces reflect the space around them, including--depending on where you stand--the viewer.

The impulse to articulate a purely aesthetic autonomy, whose sole purpose is the experience of beauty, can also be found in the titles to the works which seem to originate in a private language of the artist.   A 2007 piece, 42 inches wide, is titled “Durian.”  Other titles are “Mangosteen” and “Pomelo.”  The object titled “Niyog” appropriately evokes its extra-terrestrial nomenclature.

Titles, however, are truly secondary to the direct experience of Kauffman’s art.  His objects embody spectral auras.  They are encasements of light.  Physically present and yet intangible, their wordless and fundamental nobility enshrines the visual, sight itself.  The viewer feels round these objects with the tactility of the eyes, moving gently over their volumes with tendrils of light emanating from the head.