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PERFORMANCE REVIEW : Art Ensemble Tries for Synesthesia

April 15, 1989|CATHY CURTIS | Times Staff Writer

Remember Nick Nolte as painter Lionel Dobie in "Life Lessons"--the first part of the film trilogy "New York Stories"--furiously laying down glistening tracks of paint while his stereo booms rock music from the '60s? Now that was a happening.

On Thursday night the Improvisational Art Ensemble--one painter and an Orange County music trio--tried to stir up some good vibes in the Irvine Fine Arts Center courtyard.

They hoped, as painter Jeff Severtson told the audience, to create a kind of synesthesia--the mixing of aesthetic sensations that has been the elusive goal of certain artists since the 19th Century.

But the improvised music was a soporific New Age wash of sustained synthesizer and electronic saxophone sounds underlaid with a steady drum beat and the occasional jangle of bells. And the two bouts of improvised painting--"Homage to a Poorly Drawn Circle" and "Waters Ource"--were overly polite activities that yielded results of no particular aesthetic interest.

Incredibly, Severtson chose to paint on a square framed canvas on an easel (which wobbled perilously whenever he applied more elbow grease). Had he chosen, say, lengths of paper or a huge piece of raw canvas, he would have been obliged to move around more and his project would have had a more contemporary flair.

The canvas-on-the-easel idea was hokey and old-fashioned, more the kind of thing you'd expect on some earnest educational-TV program about how easy and pleasant it is to paint abstract works of art at home.

Switching brushes from time to time (and occasionally standing back to toss his hair and analyze his creation), Severtson eked out colorful compositions that clung to the edges of the canvas, including the narrow wood frame, leaving a void in the center.

In "Waters Ource," which took about 40 minutes to complete, he offered a greater range of activities--splats and palette-knife gouges and spills of paint as well as careful brush strokes and muddy washes.

Still, the entire presentation was far too restricted and self-conscious to work as a total art experience. Severtson never seemed really involved in his work and the musicians (Dya Singh, Greg Page and Soheil Massoumi) lacked the requisite levels of intensity and inventiveness.

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