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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

May 10, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Rick Stich's new paintings wrap you in airy comfort, like one of those cotton thermal blankets advertised to insulate the body in breathing fabric. He has painted dozens of summery landscapes--many of them inspired by the Alice Keck Park in Santa Barbara--and filled a gallery with so many that the usually austere space fairly glows with light and warm color. An old-fashioned art show with an Impressionist-era sensibility has met the encyclopedic approach of Jennifer Bartlett, and the result is uncommonly pleasant.

Stich's "Landscape Reflection" consists of 58 works in everything from egg tempera on curved panel to gouache on paper and heat-set dye on silk. With thin expanses of pigment and thick, separate strokes, he pictures "Water Gardeners" tending floating flowers, koi swimming in ponds and times of day in various weather conditions. Figures are at one with nature as they groom fields, sift flower petals or just indulge themselves in blissful surroundings. Stylistically, the works have the easy, unfinished look of journal entries done on a leisurely vacation. Apart from their mood, it's the artist's sensitivity to light that connects these paintings.

The park seems to be Stich's version of Monet's Giverny or Bartlett's Nicoise garden. Giverny is the better analogy, for unlike Bartlett's experience in Nice, Stich isn't making the best of a bad situation (a borrowed villa that turned out to be dreary). He gives you the feeling that he could stay at home in Santa Barbara forever without getting bored or having his work turn flaccid. Such contentment hasn't been in fashion lately, but then neither has maturity. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 77 Market St., to May 25.)

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