From Amos 'n' Andy to "The Color Purple," racist black cliches permeate popular culture. New York artist Frederick Brown obviously feels distanced enough from these stereotypes so as to feel no rancor toward them. Confronting his own mythology in a series of paintings dealing with the received imagery of black America, Brown seems amazingly comfortable with it all; his work is remarkably free of bitterness or social commentary.
Brown claims to see art as a form of shamanism and his references are fairly predictable: blues, the Bible, poverty, jazz, urban nightlife and Caribbean folk art. Painting possessed evangelists, hip shakin' mamas, hustlers and pimps, Brown examines the underbelly of the American Dream; what makes his work unique is that he does it with such good natured sunniness. These riotously colorful portraits are infused with such breezy confidence, they seem to be loitering rather than hanging on the gallery wall. In "Alice Was in Love," for instance, a woman in a stunningly silly hat stares into space with a dazed, slightly nauseated look on her face. This very funny painting finds Brown working at the peak of his talents.
A former follower of the abstract faith, Brown still toys with non-figurative painting, but the results--as in a few small canvases on view--tend to go muddy. He succeeds in marrying abstraction and figuration in "Parade of Stars," a huge, explosive piece that combines collaged photographs with paint and would better described as "Stampede of Stars." Experimental one-offs of this sort are interesting enough, but it's as a straight portraitist that Brown excels. (Jan Turner Gallery, 8000 Melrose Ave., to Feb. 8.)