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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

October 23, 1987|MARLENA DONOHUE

For a decade or so Heritage Gallery has treated us to works by the late and now nearly canonized black L.A. artist Charles White. His stature is more than local; images popular in Europe and across urban America are included in major exhibitions like the County Museum of Art's 1979 "Two Centuries of Black American Art" and the currently traveling "Hidden Heritage."

White's works have been consistently described as anti-modernist images of oppressed blacks, but the smallish drawings and graphic works on view are neither. A drawing of singer and activist Paul Robeson from the 1930s is staunchly dignified, seeped in all the dreamy socialism of the WPA years. For those naive enough to doubt White's avant-garde savvy, a jagged linocut of a gaunt male face nods to Die Bru cke and the Mexican muralists. A densely worked, almost mystical drawing of a mother and daughter draped in heavy shawls is a cross-racial icon of tenderness and fecundity.

No matter how many times we see White and regardless of the passing fad we measure his tenacious realism against, it's a pleasure to watch him slip effortlessly from the crisp, street-wise intensity of "Work" to the velvety seamless classicism used to portray an Old Testament prophet. Whatever the subject or style, White radios the raw, relentless spirituality of a gospel song. (Heritage Gallery, 718 La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 31.)

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