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February 11, 1986|KRISTINE McKENNA

Mark Stock's paintings glow with the burnished warmth of a "Masterpiece Theatre" miniseries. And like that impeccably civilized TV program, his pictures occasionally go a trifle foppish and fey. In a two-person show at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art's temporary location at South Coast Plaza shopping center in Costa Mesa (until March 14), Stock appropriates the style that F. Scott Fitzgerald built around the ennui of the idle rich and updates it into a reflection of the mood of today's young moderns.

Stock's best-known work, a series of portraits titled "The Butler's in Love," puts one in mind of bookplates from a vintage edition of "Tender Is the Night."

Solitary young men with varnished Rudolph Valentino hair are positioned against blank walls and dressed in black tie and tails.

The fancy threads could be formal evening wear or a servant's uniform. However, it's hard to misread the mood of these pictures. Gazing into space and lost in melancholy reverie, these sad dandies are sinking in a quicksand of wealth, star-crossed romance and the anguish of ambitions that go beyond one's birthright.

In light of the melodramatic passion that courses through his paintings, Stock's graphic work is surprisingly neutral.

In a series of small portraits, his subjects, who convey an impression of youth and sophistication, look as if they'd made an effort to compose their faces, draining them of emotion. These rather bland portraits pale beside the three large canvases that constitute the centerpiece of this show.

In "Artist and Model," a painter discusses his work with his nude female subject. The two figures are positioned far to the left in this large horizontal rectangle, with the bulk of the canvas given over to beautifully abstracted painting.

Stock, in essence, is showing us what the artist in the picture is explaining to his model, which is to say, something about the nature of the act of painting.

"Forest Murmurs," the most clumsily executed piece in the show, is also the most conceptually compelling. A young man in a wooded glen presses his ear to the trunk of a tree, a look of wonderment on his face.

The spirituality of this painting stands in marked contrast to the cynical mood of Stock's large portrait of "Peter Pan," which casts the fairy-tale punk as a snotty young man. The knowing face of an adult sits incongruously on the shoulders of a child's body dressed in that outlandishly impish get-up. Peter looks bored and vaguely contemptuous of the sentimental esteem in which he is held.

On the evidence of Michael McMillen's work, one imagines that as a child he might have loved Sherlock Holmes movies and toy train sets. McMillen's painstakingly detailed miniatures are infused with a young boy's sense of adventure and love of secrets, mysteries and ghoulish things. The wonderful chill a child feels on venturing into an abandoned building is echoed in adult life when we face unknown territory of any sort, and this quiver of excitement is the leitmotif in McMillen's work.

Moonlighting in the film industry as a special-effects designer and model builder, McMillen works with the refined craftsmanship of a jeweler. Best known for his elaborate art environments, he usually makes the kind of art you walk into rather than look at.

This series of wall-mounted constructions is some of the more conventional work he's done to date. These tiny, surreal objects almost read as paintings; look closely, however, and they blossom into mixed-media assemblages that feel like scrap-heap shrines.

McMillen used to be big on things like shrunken heads and mummies, but the recurring elements here--fire and decay--are a bit more adult.

In "Enemy Action" we see a burning plane, in "Nine Hours From Alice" a car burns on a lonely stretch of highway in the dead of night. Terrible, gaping mouths metamorphose into doorways in three tiny constructions that can be read either as faces or weathered facades of rotting buildings.

Fire appears again in "A Stroll Near Vesuvius," centered on a young man seated at a table. His plate is empty and the table is littered with organic blobs, a tire pump and a scrawny dead cat. A kitchen window opens onto a view of the Italian countryside. One final detail, a miniature jet plane zooming toward the young man's head, hammers home the point that the mysteries of the subconscious go far beyond anything you'll find in Sherlock Holmes.

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