Joe Clower is one of Los Angeles' most under-appreciated veteran artists. Why? I don't know, but each time his pictographic urban landscapes turn up in a gallery, they look so strong that the matter becomes more puzzling. A prickly red question mark in one of his paintings could be taken to symbolize his predicament--as well as his thorny sensibility.
His translations of the hard surfaces, sharp corners and abrasive ambiance of cities in black, white and gray or bright-colored paintings inevitably lead to double-takes. Something about the collision of cartoon-like sprightliness and citified constraint pulls viewers up short before his artwork. Though his work is often cryptic, it is so consistently hard-fisted that it fairly cracks under the pressure of possible meanings.
In a mini-retrospective of Clower's works on paper (1977-1984), "Modern Plants" are mechanistic devices or jigsaw-puzzle shapes. "A Fool's Paradise" consists of skeletal towers and a figure with a heart-shaped pelvis lined up like specimens. Love and hate square off as identical architectural slabs atop a bright red monolith. And in "Personal Expression," a tipped-perspective room houses a scramble of curling lines and a bare light bulb blazing over a table; the excitement of creative energy is threatened by the cold process of interrogation.