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GALLERIES

Wilshire Center

June 23, 1989|MARLENA DONOHUE

As a young prodigy, Ireland's leading painter, Patrick Graham, won prestigious drawing awards, then fell into despair and drink. In his words, he experienced "complete loss" only to discover creative "revival" in the "raw honesty" of Emile Nolde.

Graham's anguished mixed-media drawings and large oils make a Sartre-ian balancing act of "being and nothingness," recognizable form and inchoate marks. In "Cold and Fatal Heroes," a skein of lines barely describes a tattered soldier/drummer with the existentialist credo, "Love Can Be Colder Than Death," scrawled above. Next to this, a spectral face spouts dwarfed arms that cradle a glob of hot vermilion swaddled like the Christ child.

Other works feature brutal figures, faces, coffins emerging out of sooty, agitated fields and maelstroms of marks, symbols and writing. There are shadowy fetus forms, haloed hearts and Christlike torsos often accented with fake flowers, magazine cut-outs, Polaroid photos of works in progress or painted designs that suggest stained glass. Graham's commendable desire to subvert superficial finery can get excessive. The best works poke at sexual, religious, political, filial and creative Angst with a wrenching Irish despair that makes most American Neo-Ex look like a comfortable game of charades. (Jack Rutberg Fine Art, 357 N. La Brea Ave., to July 29.)

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