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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

October 09, 1987|CATHY CURTIS

Raymond Saunders has enjoyed near-cult status in the Bay Area for the past decade or so. But only recently has he figured out how to send an essentially small-scale lyrical vision roaming fearlessly over big, black multi-canvas spaces.

In "East to West," one canvas holds a rubbery black protrusion, a cadenza of loopy drips and a thick pink sludge, cracked like caked mud and subsiding into a sort of alluvial basin. Nudging alongside this painterly celebration, the other canvas offers a worldly mix of colored, torn and patterned papers (a William Morris-style flowered wallpaper, a fragment of orange crate label, Oriental calligraphy) and one of the artist's leitmotifs: tentative, chalky numerals, partly erased and scribbled out, like a once-reliable mantra that no longer works.

Much of Saunders' appeal lies in his effortless juggling of small, disparate elements into a sensuous, eye-teasing package. But in his most personal work--simultaneously about childhood and being black--he risks a sentimental veneer to get closer to the bone. The small boy with the delicately outlined skull and tender ear who hides behind the mountainous silhouette of a woman in "In a Black Landscape" is one memorable result. (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Nov. 7.)

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