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THE ART GALLERIES

West L.a.

April 04, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

With their richly toned, dark monochromatic washes and scratched, calligraphic surfaces, Kent Rush's elusive mixed-media paintings appear at first glance to be a subtle fusion of Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly. Ambiguous color fields of unstable depth and composition suggest enigmatic aerial topographies or manipulated industrial materials such as wood or lead that have been scarred and graffitied with unintelligible striations. Such interplay of line and surface texture, as well as the formal yin-yang of positive-negative space, would seem to have more in common with the meditative qualities of Zen painting and Japanese screens, yet Rush offsets such psychological or emotional allusions by deliberately drawing attention to process and materials.

Thus on closer examination we discover that what appears to be scratched metal or splintered wood grain turns out to be collaged paper, either painted and scrawled with charcoal and pencil, or photographically treated in the form of cyanotypes. Rather than be seduced into a contemplative attitude of self-absorption, the viewer now becomes conscious of the deceits of representation itself. The result is art that simultaneously denies and affirms its own importance as mark-making.

A perfect example is "Splice," a lithographic collage of cut-up gray panels on a dirty ochre background. Any Rothko-like "spiritual" metaphor of field and color is subverted by both the defacement of pencil graffiti and the impersonalized process of mechanical reproduction. Because the original image has been dissected and reconstituted as collage, it suggests that Rush wants to stress the indirect nature of the creative process, as well as the final object's distance from the artist's initial inspiration. It doesn't quite work because by blurring the boundaries between his materials (we are never entirely sure of what medium we are looking at), Rush inadvertently draws attention to his own technical expertise. The aura of virtuosity becomes the subject in absentia , a contradiction that Rush is clearly trying to avoid. (Art Space, 10550 Santa Monica Blvd., to April 19.)

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