A Vancouver gallery known largely for its advocacy of benign landscape and abstract painting makes its Los Angeles debut with an exhibition of works by Maryann Harman. This Virginia-based painter draws upon the all-over aesthetic of Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann's juxtaposition of gestural color fields, and much of the painterly palette of the Fauves to create landscapes that are defined and composed through the formal properties of color.
Unlike her more expressionistic forebears who opted for impastoed, tactile surfaces, Harman prefers to dilute her acrylics into watercolor-like washes, each area melting into the next or appearing to seep into the thinly primed canvas. Following Helen Frankenthaler, Harman then adds depth perspective by superimposing structural outlines in the form of viscous threads of oil paint, serving to break down the picture plane both dimensionally and viscerally.
With most serious landscape painters currently questioning the visual language and romantic "aura" of the genre as preconceived (especially photographic-based) information, it is very difficult to take work such as this at face value. With historical hindsight and a sophisticated media literacy, we no longer see the landscape in purely passive terms, but rather as a manipulated image cloaked in the dubious trappings of the sublime. In Harman's work, which straddles the boundaries between landscape and abstraction, such issues are never acknowledged, and we are left with paintings that merely reiterate old visual and structural cliches. Neither an analysis of formal complexity, nor a particularly original extension of landscape vocabulary, the work ends up appearing staidly conservative and not a little naive. (Wade Gallery, 750 N. La Cienega Blvd., to April 12.)