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THE ART GALLERIES

Santa Monica

June 12, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

The current show at this airy showcase looks like the work of a wildly imaginative teen-ager--the sort who tunes out the teacher and retreats into drawing his fantasies. Instead, these little gouaches--mostly diptychs pairing 5-by-7-inch images--are the work of two wildly imaginative grown-ups who correspond bicoastally through drawings.

Steve Galloway lives in Los Angeles, Ed Henderson in New York. As I understand it, one artist sends the other a drawing, the recipient answers with another, and the two works are paired, matted and framed as a single artwork.

This is difficult to fathom because the artists' styles and materials are nearly indistinguishable. Though the two parts of a work may differ sharply, and even function independently, the touch is almost identical. This would raise suspicions if the artists hadn't been collaborating for eight years or more, along with pursuing separate oeuvres. More surprising than their stylistic cloning is that Galloway and Henderson are on the same wavelength. Sparked by diabolical magic and social conscience, they put one in mind of such historical figures as Hieronymus Bosch and contemporary miniaturist Scott Miller. Such artists don't quite succeed in setting forth human doom on the head of a pin, but that seems to be part of their motivation.

Galloway's and Henderson's work doesn't lend itself to interpretation, however. It's easy to figure out weird stand-ins for human figures and to divine the meaning of a cave man examining a clock, but what are we to make of ramps leading from the ground to a cow's head? The subject throughout is chaos or, if not that, the irrational. A moral tone also rings through the work, but the artists are having so much fun outdoing each other that this message gets lost in the spectacle. Yet, by forcing us to squint at bizarre images, worked out in sparkling detail, they suggest that the madness portrayed is not visionary but heightened realism. (James Corcoran Gallery, 1327 5th St., to July 4.)

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