Clarinetist Artie Shaw's signature song, a darkly atmospheric melody called "Nightmare," conjures visions of morose city dwellers trudging through crowded, lonely streets; a similar haunted refrain could function as the sound track for this exhibition of paintings by John Berens. Awash in film noir -ish melancholy, his highly romantic homages to the ballet of city streets depict briefcase-clutching workers rushing frantically to the office; lost souls on aimless strolls, bicycling couriers and speeding automobiles. Needless to say, these paintings are of New York.
When the city goes soft with rain and puts Berens in a mellow mood, his work is evocative of Elmer Bischoff or David Park. Life is but a powder-blue bohemian dream, cloudy with cappuccino steam and the smoke of clove cigarettes. Berens' nighttime scenes are usually of this temperament; solitary figures move through shards of color from neon lights in "Legions," while a pair of black-and-white drawings called "The Dancers" zeros in on a young man's face nestled in the nape of his partner's neck. Kerouac's ghost seems to be dancing in the room with them. (Fiona Whitney Gallery, 962 N. La Brea Ave., to March 31.)