Pepo Pichler's primitive surrealist paintings take the viewer on a harrowing excursion comparable to Dante's journey through hell.
The hapless mortal traveler has little defense against the fates in this gloomy netherworld where man and fish melt together, arrows of fire rain from the sky and water spouts materialize out of thin air. Pichler's world is riddled with the kind of conflicting perspectives that abound in Cubism, but the dominant historical reference in this highly superstitious work is Haitian voodoo art. We see severed limbs entwined with thorns, ghostly apparitions, crescent moons and free-floating eyeballs--the kind of stuff you'd expect to see on the curtains at a circus sideshow.
Though this Austrian painter is big on death masks and umbilical cords, he does have a few other tricks up his sleeve; his work is often subtly erotic, and occasionally presents intriguing puzzles. A large blue composition juxtaposes birds, snakes, a bear and two human figures, but leaves their connection to one another open to interpretation. It's crisp and cool in the place where these creatures sit and you come away with the impulse to enter the painting and solve the mystery it presents. (Space Gallery, 6015 Santa Monica Blvd., to Feb 15.)