Honorable obscurity shrouded the sincere, awkward figurative painting of Charles Garabedian until he was "discovered" as a precursor by the Neo-Expressionist generation. His present show speaks well of an apparent unwillingness to pander to that image. True to his established intransigence, Garabedian is off on a lyric toot of his own.
Aside from that, the news is not all good. A two-gallery exhibition looks thin and pointlessly gabby. Thematically titled "Tunneling Backwards," it consists mainly of long painted sheets of paper that put one in mind of collective artworks done by grammar school kids of yore. Marks are surprisingly fresh, conception thin and pedestrian. Despite heavy-duty titles like "Massacre of the Innocents," there is a lot of cheerful pointlessness going on here. For a minute you think about Sister Mary Corita in the '60s.
Then you encounter the big "Willie Snake" and realize that what is really on Garabedian's mind is Henri Matisse's late paper cut-outs. It's a trifle disappointing to find this artist that deep into a modern-academic icon but "Willie Snake" is a heckuva painting. It replaces Matisse's integrated gesture with three abutted movements that go from a snappy opening a la Stuart Davis to a woozy, lyric pastel midsection and a final throbbingly romantic finale that would likely not work without the rest. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 55 N. Venice Blvd. and 77 Market St., to Feb. 22).