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Santa Monica

December 18, 1987|COLIN GARDNER

Although primarily based in Arizona, James G. Davis spends part of each year at the Berlin studio of Ed and Nancy Kienholz. This geographic and aesthetic dichotomy is reflected in Davis' paintings, for they combine the magic and mythology of Mexico and the Southwest with the often violent urban Angst of contemporary German Expressionism.

This combination of universal archetypes with gritty, autobiographical realism takes the form of a series of sketchy visual scrapbooks. Juxtaposing "real" events (the death of a friend in a Berlin bar, a prostitute soliciting a customer on the street) with fantastical dream imagery in explosive and muted colors, Davis creates enigmatic fragments of life lived among the demimonde. Here, seemingly passionless sex and senseless violence are transcended only by the inevitability of death.

While the work owes certain narrative debts to the tormented paintings of Frida Kahlo, one is also reminded of Georg Grosz's cartoon-like satires and Jorg Immendorf's "Cafe Deutschland" series; particularly in Davis' ability to strip away the surface veneer of bourgeois society to reveal its grotesque and macabre shadow within. On the downside, however, this makes for extremely fatalistic art, offering little or no possibility of social/political redemption beyond the catharsis of creativity itself. (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 1454 5th St., to Jan. 12.)

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