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THE GALLERIES

Downtown

March 08, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Sheila Elias' art appears to be about 50% chutzpah, 50% glitter and goo. In her latest show of sculptural paintings she presents a gaudy group of artworks fashioned of gallons of thick paint, cardboard cylinders, wadded fabric, plastic toys, party decor and magazine cutouts. Occasionally, this approach squeezes a festive air from throwaway materials; usually, it smothers art in excess.

Beneath Elias' desperate exuberance lie at least two strains that could be developed: a childlike love of visual expression (most clearly seen in a couple of monoprints and free-standing cylinders) and an interest in popular female icons (incorporated as pictures of the Statue of Liberty, Shirley Temple and art dealer Mary Boone). At present, these potential strengths are buried by an unchecked impulse to include everything from the Abstract Expressionists' gut-spilling action and Robert Rauschenberg's collecting instincts to feminist sensibilities and autobiography.

The worst results are large paintings on canvas, featuring women's faces peeking out of muddy overloads. Rough-textured paper pieces in plexiglass frames are better, if only because they retain an element of freshness and sparkle. The painted columns, festooned with fabric and bric-a-brac, are fun from a distance. Up close, they reveal little pockets of violence--acted out by plastic toys or suggested by words--thus juxtaposing celebration and social disturbance.

This sort of art is sometimes said to be courageous because it throws off traditional restraints. Elias' chaotic version of Expressionism just looks undisciplined; her art revels in freedom without channeling it into effective communication. (Stella Polaris Gallery, 301 Boyd St., to March 18.)

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