Until a year ago, Jim DeFrance was a dyed-in-the-wool abstractionist sticking to his minimalist guns through the onslaught of Neo-Expressionism. Then in last year's show, his high-keyed monochromatic diagonals gave way to a looser format with carved channels suggestive of rivers or roads, and critics predicted a defection. Now, using carved, painted wood and passages of brushed aluminum, DeFrance has fine-tuned his new format into confident and quite beautiful works that remain abstract in the best sense.
The son of a wood carver and an impeccable craftsman, DeFrance melds clean, lucid technique with the comic-book coloration of Pop and the perceptual pyrotechnics of Op art. He carves thick bands and jagged shapes into large blocks of wood then paints the shapes periwinkle blue, magenta and bright turquoise. Over this he carves wavy striations that simulate wood grain or corrugated steel, and he highlights all with the thick black animated line we associate with the world of comics or advertising. The result is a basically flat surface that appears to undulate and move constantly. Clearly, DeFrance's agendas are more conceptual and formal than Pop or Op art, steeped in everything from Cezanne's theories of building the illusion of recession with only contrasting color; modernism's ruminations on literal versus created depth, and post modernism's concerns about the real world versus the artifice of art. Wherever they come from, these works are sophisticated without being snooty, painstaking yet delightfully carefree. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave. to Nov. 28.)