Robert Gil de Montes makes some of the scariest art to come out of this city--and some of the most compelling. It's probably a combination of diabolic glee and primal terror that keeps us staring quite helplessly at a squatting pink "Aztec" giving birth to another, a "Suffocating Embrace" and a line up of "Virus Victims." Painting broadly on sheets of tin and canvas, carving into heavy frames or loading them with toy guns and dragons, Gil de Montes explores a netherworld of Latino spirits and popular culture.
Moments of calm descend, say, in the rings swirling around the head of a "Dreamless" woman, but they don't last long. A ghoulish figure seems to singe another with his cigarette in a small work called "Smoking Ear," while the shady characters in "Limbo Dance" recall late Goya.
Gil de Montes has had some difficulty with scale in the past, often dissipating the magic of tiny pieces in large paintings. That trouble isn't gone, but the imposing "Retro Aztec" and a darkly humorous canvas portraying a "Stampede" of autos need no apologies. "Morning Surprise," a blue and orange painting of a smoking car in the last stage of meltdown, will give nightmares to any commuter. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to May 30.)