James Strombotne's recent work proves he is a fine technician with a keen sense of irony. Paintings are heavily allegorical in the tradition of Ben Shahn or Georg Grosz. But too often the metaphor is cumbersome, as in "Heavy Traffic," which depicts a sensitively outlined nude reclining on a bed over which a stream of painted and actual toy cars and trucks race along an imaginary skyway.
Works dwell heavily on the theme of male-female relationships and the feeling that the battle between the sexes is inevitable and pernicious. They juxtapose attraction and alienation. Well, that's a fine age-old subject. But thematic content lacks force because of another, purely aesthetic battle raging on the canvas.
In his struggle to achieve a synthesis of abstraction with a taste for figures and storytelling, Strombotne confounded the development of his mature style. Maybe someday he'll resolve the problem. Meantime the artist's intentions here are compromised by polished, facile rendering, as if he were not yet ready to go out on a limb and let his considerable reputation as a draftsman stand quietly in the background.
The strongest images in this show are loose and immediate: watercolors, ink drawings and delightful mixed-media Xerox prints. They communicate with a nervous energy unequaled by most of the rest. (Eilat Gordin Gallery, 644 N. Robertson Blvd., to Dec. 5.)