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THE ART GALLERIES

Santa Monica

July 10, 1987|WILLIAM WILSON

Don Bachardy is certainly among the sharpest practitioners of the narrow but demanding discipline he has chosen, the traditional field of pencil and watercolor portraiture. The latest batch consists of about 60 unframed sheets casually hung on paper clamps. As usual, his sitters include well-known names such a Teri Garr, Samantha Eggar and Ellen Burstyn but, unlike shows in the distant past, this one does not read like a gallery of celebrity and society portraits. In fact, he calls it "Paintings of Friends and Acquaintances." A relaxed series of exercises, it shows each sitter in three or four variations-including a gaggle of nude young men and numerous faces familiar to artnicks. Female models noticeably outnumber males.

The show seems to ask us not to make too much of it, but there is significance here. These bright watercolors bring together two previously divided halves of Bachardy's talent, blending the linear and psychological accuracy of his pencil portraits with an expressionistic gesture once reserved for his paintings. The result, rather surprisingly, is overridingly decorative. Sitters, rather than revealing their character or the artists feelings, share a pensive expression common to people having their picture painted. The only expressive edge is a shared--probably accidental--look of all having recently discovered something they would rather not know.

Relative emotional neutrality dramatizes the pictures' purely artistic aspect and we discover that Bachardy often has the delicate touch and spontaneity of an Oriental ink painter. But once this aesthetic card is on the table we also notice pictorial limitations that were always there but went unheeded. Bachardy puts virtually all his marks inside the outlines of the figure. Excepting the odd pillow, there is no suggestion of the world these people live in, only their bodies and clothes. It is a well-behaved habit of coloring-inside-the-lines that severely limits Bachardy's compositional freedom and makes the work feel like the A-double-plus efforts of a talented graduate student doing standard studio calisthenics. (James Corcoran Gallery, 1327 5th Street, to Aug. 1.)

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