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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

March 13, 1987|KRISTINE MCKENNA

Born in Mexico in 1883, Jose Clemente Orozco was a self-taught painter who began his career as a cartoonist and ended it as a great muralist. He was at the height of his powers during the '30s, and much of the work in this exhibition of graphics dates from that period.

Orozco had a rigorous social conscience but, unlike a card-carrying political propagandist, he eschewed personal judgment on issues of good and evil, opting instead for mystical depiction of conflicts that plague humanity. He had a black sense of humor that sometimes tempers the Big Statement in his work. All the same, he packed a serious punch when he chose to. Orozco the humanist is clearly evident in "Manifesto," a 1935 litho depicting an army of downtrodden peasants waving protest banners, and in "Tortured Man," a grisly rendering of an anguished soul whose body is pierced with axes and knives.

A major mood swing is required to segue to his "Women in the Parlor," a portrait of six women carrying on like a flock of gabbling hens (like Picasso--whose work Orozco's resembles--he took a rather sexist view of women).

The conflicting currents that fed Orozco's sensibility come to a head in a 1928 litho titled "Tourists," wherein we see a group of snooty travelers dressed to the nines on a visit to the tropics, where they mingle ever so gingerly with the local primitives. It looks exactly like a cartoon from the New Yorker and reveals Orozco for the cosmopolitan world citizen he eventually became.

Educated, well traveled, feted in foreign lands, he was no longer a prisoner of his poverty-stricken native country, and though his work continued to explore the plight of the lower class, it appears that he was occasionally able to forget their troubles long enough to enjoy himself. (Heritage Gallery, 718 N. La Cienega Blvd., to April 4.)

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