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February 05, 1988|Leah Ollman

Montreal-based artist Pierre Lamarche is one of a myriad of artists whose work takes as its subject the process of its own creation. Unlike most, however, Lamarche does not bog down his images weaving conceptual or theoretical webs; he concentrates instead on the basic acts of observing and recording, interspersing this general inquiry into vision with imagery of a more personal nature, and wrapping the sum into a package marked by good-humored sophistication.

His paintings and an installation, on view at the Dietrich Jenny Gallery (664 9th Ave.) together with the work of Wick Alexander, are sprinkled with visual puns and clever juxtapositions. In one painting, a flashlight illuminates a small skeleton lying in a bowl. The image pokes fun at the conventions of still-life painting by representing a literal translation of its title, "Nature Morte"--dead nature.

In "Hard to Draw," three rows of variably tilted heads are barely discernable against a murky background, but are overlaid with diagrammatic renderings of them as ovoid shapes with cylindrical necks. Lamarche's wry commentary on this standard drawing exercise, designed to teach reduction of forms to their basic, structural components, shifts to quiet slapstick in the simultaneous image of a hand whose attempt to draw a pear is aided by a (painted) string connecting the pencil to its subject. Unlike his large installation, which amuses briefly, Lamarche's paintings unravel a host of meaningful layers, matching their visual richness with content of enduring interest.

Alexander, a San Diegan, presents pastel tondos and paintings exploring border realities and issues of identity on a metaphoric level, with people represented by masks and animals and death appearing as a skull or walking skeleton. The images are full of an aggressive energy, intensified by Alexander's exploitation of the round format to convey a spiraling motion or centrifugal force.

"F--- Man," a powerful, disturbing drawing, represents a man's face uttering these words as he contemplates the cycle of life that ultimately delivers death. A kernel of corn moves clockwise in an orbit around him, evolving from a sprouting plant to a full stalk, then an ear of corn catapulting back into the ground. The man's head, an oversized, distorted pink mass, bears a smaller, more gentle visage on one side and a skull on another, reiterating the corn's cyclical route. The words 'time,' 'sin' and 'death' mark the passage of the man, the corn and, presumably, all who move through life. Alexander's tone lightens up a bit in his other work, using a simpler, more playful vocabulary of folk art forms and masks to depict caged creatures and rambunctious musicians.

His installation, made with Steve de Paoli, successfully reincarnates a set of painted cut-outs installed last year in an 80-foot storefront in Pacific Beach. Compressed into a small room, the elements wrap the visitor in emblems of the natural jungle--tigers, palms, spear-wielding natives--and the urban societal version, complete with Visa card, cellular telephone and computer. The imagery may be simplistic but the effect is convincing and provocative.

The show continues through tomorrow.

San Diegans Gary Hansmann and Lilly Rosa spend a hefty portion of their time abroad, infusing their drawings and watercolors with the flavors of distant locales. Their latest efforts, collectively titled "Iberian Diaries," on view through Feb. 14 at the Whelchel and Tilotta Studio (2424 San Diego Ave.), are small, intimate insights into the artists' experiences in Spain and Portugal.

Both Hansmann's and Rosa's drawings explore states of being and personal situations shaped by memory. While Hansmann allows his images to escape the bounds of naturalistic scale and configuration, Rosa grounds her imaginative and memory-soaked visions in reality through a tightly controlled style of drawing, related in manner to the old masters, and in content to Goya. She exaggerates in her rendering of a gypsy extending a scrawny hand from her large and lumpy frame, and slips into fantasy in her image of a squid catcher whose cap transforms into the violet creature he snares, but both drawings appear firmly rooted in direct observation.

In "A Self-Portrait Hiding My Madness," Rosa adopts for her own image the same cold, confrontational stare she attributes to the other subjects of her Iberian studies. A fiery intensity is concentrated in those eyes, shooting glances over shoulders and behind backs. The subjects in Hansmann's drawings, in contrast, peer out at us with tired skepticism. With their bulbous, distended heads planted into hunched shoulders, they appear to be lifted directly from the work of Mexican artist Jose Luis Cuevas. Like the characters in Cuevas' spaceless, timeless world, Hansmann's are defined through hatched and cross-hatched lines and accenting washes of color.

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