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THE GALLERIES

Downtown

March 01, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Four paintings by Leon Polk Smith inaugurating an inviting new gallery look as if they were designed for the space. Smith's large, hard-edge color forms interact with architectural lines, a shaft of light and white space so compatibly that the whole thing feels like an installation. This only proves that the pioneer abstractionist is up to his usual aesthetic behavior.

The last time Smith's work was shown in Los Angeles (1979) he talked about "drawing on both sides of a line" and "interchangeable form and space." Like Ellsworth Kelly, Smith has made concepts of positive and negative space equivocal while equalizing the force of two shapes within a single painting or placing a solid-color canvas against a wall.

Smith's last show here featured buoyant, circular forms based on balls used in sports. Two of his recent paintings refer to landscape: "At Sunrise" locks an almond-like red shape into a black rectangle, and "Beyond the Blue" reverses two black-and-blue components that meet at a corner. The other major works exhibited are from Smith's "Form Space Series." One abuts two triangular corners of a bright green square; the other horizontally aligns a mirror-image reversal of turquoise-green rectangles with missing corners.

Smith does more than let the viewer fill in the blanks in his new work; he opens up a liberating range of spatial possibilities. His art is justly revered for its rigor, but it's loved for the unusually generous spirit of its purism.

In the back room, two collages from the '70s incisively merge line and shape, while two '40s paintings reveal Smith's early ties to Mondrian. (Burnett Miller Gallery, 2511 West 7th St., to March 15.)

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