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La Cienega Area

THE ART GALLERIES

February 14, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

"Refined masculinity" or "reserved monumentality" are common epithets applied to Melvin Schuler's totemic sculptures.

Since the early 1970s, Schuler has been carving the redwood of his native Northern California into graceful, fluent forms, then covering them with overlapping plates of patinated copper. The results resemble weathered paeans to a decaying Modernism--green-armored pedestals that combine primitive African and Oceanic figurative sources with the geometric abstraction of early Constructivism.

The work's forceful elegance, with its juxtaposition of precarious balance and lumpy, organic masses, seems conservative and even retrogressive in this age of pluralism and pastiche, yet what it may lack in formal derring-do it makes up for in quiet, meditative strength.

In contrast, Roberto Delgado's mixed-media monotypes exploit stylistic eclecticism for its own sake, drawing parallels between ancient and modern techniques to underline the dialectic between the Third World and Colonial exploitation. Delgado employs the predominant earth tones of Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros to create complex, overlapping imagery. Ancient, pre-Columbian symbology vies with the post-Pop iconography of contemporary political oppression, such as soldiers and helicopters, each shading into the other like a historical palimpsest.

The use of spray paint, stencil and monotype creates a surface texture resembling a bark-like skin, as if the work were being peeled or flagellated to reveal concealed layers, a contradictory metaphor for death and subsequent regeneration. Delgado occasionally slips into proselytizing the obvious. He saves the work from becoming mere propaganda, by employing his hieroglyph of visual signs to reassert the populist base of the mural and poster, yet subvert it at the same time. (Ankrum Gallery, 657 N. La Cienega Blvd., to March 8.)

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