LA JOLLA — Two hits and a miss. That's not a bad average for a group show.
The hits in the fifth of a continuing series of "Young American Artists" exhibitions at the Mandeville Gallery at UC San Diego are Madden Harkness and Tim Hawkinson. The miss is Patty Wickman.
Mandeville Gallery director Gerry McAllister, assisted by Brent Riggs, selected the three after making many visits to artists' studios in Los Angeles. They are young artists with impressive exhibition histories but as yet no regular gallery representation.
The most impressive works are those of Harkness, whose somber paintings are related to the nightmarish graphic work of Francisco Goya iconographically, tonally and psychologically. Their scale, however, is life-size (or nearly so) and they are unique painted drawings rather than prints.
Using black-and-white photographs of nude models as notations, Harkness begins by making classic, academic drawings in graphite on the matte side of drafting film. She then transforms the surfaces with gestural erasures and broad washes of black pigment and turpentine. The expressive results convey a feeling of quasi-athletic activity, as if the artist had been wrestling with her images.
Indeed, the figures in Harkness' works appear tormented, although not distorted. The absence of deformation, as used by English painter Francis Bacon, for example, allows them to function as anchors complementing the visual turbulence in which they are situated. In "Jumping Man" and "Conflict Series No. 4," for example, the painted activity is nearly explosive. In "The Terrible Light" and Untitled, male figures appear to be hurtling through space. Still, everything coheres in profound humanistic statements.
Several of the works suggest religious content--a Christlike figure in "Conflict Series No. 4" (but maybe he's only a hippie) and a cross in Untitled. Such content is explicit in "Baptism No. 1." The horrifying image, however, is that of a man plunging upside down.
"The Wound," an image of a cringing, nude woman, completes Harkness' offering.
Despite their ostensible gruesomeness, these are beautiful and moving works of art of enduring interest.
Patricia Wickman's large-scale, oil-on-canvas paintings are examples of the expressive figuration that became current a few years ago. Her palette is somber but not monochromatic. Her enigmatic tableaux in domestic environments suggest the horrors of home rather than the transcendental issues of man's fate, as in the works of Harkness.
Wickman is interested in interpersonal relationships. Aren't we all! But something in them misfires for me. Instead of complexity, all I detect is repressed violence. They lack the compulsively engaging mystery of the works of Eric Fischl, for example. Perhaps Wickman just hasn't lived long enough.
The titles of some of the exhibitions in which Hawkinson has been featured suggest the qualities of his works--"High Strung," "Painted, Tinted, Tainted Sculpture" and "Paint in Space." He uses a full palette of acrylic paints on primed vinyl in free-standing and low-relief works composed of surreal referential forms. His works look like contemporary versions of medieval illuminations and stained glass windows and, in their grotesquerie, like the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, especially "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Hawkinson's own delight in the sheen of plastic relates his works to the Los Angeles "fetish finish" of two decades ago.
Hawkinson's works are enthralling. You could spend hours reading the large (8-by-12-foot) and complex "Saint George and the Dragon."
The exhibit continues through Feb. 15.