Fantasy art has always liked being small in size or scale. "Fantastic Visions," a group of some 15 artists, confirms this hoary proposition by dividing the more and less interesting works almost exactly according to size.
Three paintings by John Swihart--each about the size of your old school notebook cover--convey a fevered, microscopic reality in odd scenes that update the discovery of religion. A guy in jeans sits in a ramshackle playhouse wooden temple contemplating a golden calf. A bearded youth bars a nude girl from the temple (and what a nude!). The work is a little cranky like the product of some unreconstructed hippie who is really an eccentric conservative, but the visual imagery glows like a Van Eyck.
A number of the artists use fantasy as a vehicle for social commentary. The post card-small pictures of Carolyn Cardenas include a variation on a Holbein that depicts the modern contemplative as a kind of electronic autistic clamped into Walkman earphones and surrounded by gadgets of distraction. Steve Galloway's series uses the techniques of kid-book illustration to evoke a surreal walk through a mental garden of scary thoughts where even a pink clown is sinister.
Hieronymous Bosch discovered the nightmarish charms of miniaturization back in the 15th Century and it still works. Somehow compression causes work to parallel the eerie, sharp reality of hallucination. When this show moves up to normal cabinet-painting scale, it thins in both substance and theme. Phoebe Brunner and Kate Thamer look like makers of stylized sets for horror-ballets. Paul Pratchenko requires only captions to move into the cartoon world of Gahan Wilson and green-Martian sculpture by Daniel Martinez is sorely outstripped by the creations of movies special-effects men. (Simard & Halm Gallery, 665 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Saturday.)