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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

March 07, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

The followers of Aristotle were called Peripatetics (literally, walk-arounders), after their mentor's habit of wandering about in the Lyceum while teaching. This label could equally apply to the work of James Risser, whose recent paintings/collages draw upon his background as a philosopher, printmaker and traveler to explore the fleeting nature of time and meaning in a world where objects and signs float in an amorphous sea of inexactitude.

Risser originally painted over early 20th-Century topographic maps of the United States, reinforcing itinerant metaphors with indirect allusions to the harsh logistics of travel and the untamed quality of nature. His current wall and table-like paintings are more enigmatic, resembling in part the object poems of Andre Breton and the diaristic collages of Raymond Saunders. The backgrounds are largely monochromatic, suggesting vague landscapes, oceans or interiors. They act as an unstable ground for scratched-out hieroglyphics and scattered collaged elements that include classical columns and torsos, boat hulls, tiny Oriental woodcuts, postage stamps and comic-book figures such as Nancy and Sluggo.

While overt nautical themes suggest both real and imaginary passage, the work seems to be largely about cultural pluralism, the arbitrary appropriation of visual language from around the globe and its stubborn resistance to integration. Risser's images appear drawn together merely through the artifice of the picture frame, and although this might make for a viable conceptual premise, the work loses much of its tautness and coherence as a result.

Deborah Davidson is a local artist who uses the image of a circus bear balanced on a ball as a stand-in for her own self-portrait. De-centered compositions, severely cropped heads and feet and generally claustrophobic framing and palette conjure up images of the artist as manipulated performer, a tamed beast in danger of losing its identity to the demands of the market place. Hardly an original premise, in Davidson's hands it comes alarmingly close to aesthetic self-effacement, not to mention self-pity. (Hunsaker/Schlesinger, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd., to March 22.)

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