Craig Roper's intensely gestural and calligraphic paintings have usually been divided into two distinct yet related themes.
His more mystically symbolic "Eastern" works are defined by tightly composed images of floating masks, flowing vines, falling water and/or flaming torches. The autobiographical "Western" canvases allude to the iconography and landscape of his native Nebraska, choreographing such cliches as the hard-drinking, womanizing cowboy with scrawled text, found photographs and Twombly-like doodlings.
Unfortunately, any sense of viable narrative or cultural exploration is completely undermined by Roper's derivative appropriations of other (usually bad) artists. Thus Julian Schnabel's overwrought Baroque signature is everywhere, counterpointed with Anselm Kiefer's emotionally damaged landscapes, and Francesco Clemente's fey figurative indulgences. This might of course be taken as a perfect expression of Roper's innate alienation from the essence of his subjects, but it reads much more like a sad lack of stylistic originality and an over-reliance on the tired rhetoric of the impastoed brush stroke. The results resemble the worst manifestations of "art school angst." (Richard/Bennett Gallery, 332 1/2 N. La Brea Ave., to April 5.)