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THE ART GALLERIES

Wilshire Center

January 24, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

Fusing the geometric properties of the Minimalist grid with the sensuous Romanticism of '70s pattern painting, Merion Estes' highly decorative landscapes exploit a wide variety of historical influences. Thick impasto draws upon the dense, all-over perspective of Abstract Expressionism; vibrant, oscillating colors mine the emotional resonances of Monet and Derain; while a firmly etched, calligraphic line evokes the ornamental/functional synthesis of Japanese screens.

Estes' latest works are self-styled "secret gardens of the mind," doppelganger landscapes of sharply defined trees mirrored in muddy pools of water or engulfed by raging infernos. Through elemental and expressionist metaphor, Estes attempts to conjure up idyllic realities that are part melodrama, part dream-like longing.

Such overt, unquestioning "spiritual" symbolism appears rather anachronistic in this era of debunking metaphor. Romanticism and the loaded emotional overtones of paint itself are currently being reevaluated as linguistic deceits rather than viable and healthy narrative structures. Despite an admirable facility with her medium, Estes seems to be merely reasserting dubious value systems while exploiting the cliched resonances of theatrical rhetoric. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to Feb. 15.)

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