Ryu Okabayashi's best recent paintings are dreamy gray terrains, encrusted with blobs of black paint, zapped with irregular white patches and trickled with networks of watery white drips. The restrained palette and moon-surface texture work well together, and the white "veins" let a soft pulse of energy travel through the medium-sized, not-quite-square fields.
By allowing color into some of the paintings--all are untitled--the Japanese artist loses the meditative, weathered quality of the gray works without gaining an equivalent strength. One painting, with thick black deposits and pale blue and white splotches on a putty-colored ground, is scored with a cluster of thin vertical marks as if to add a grittier counterpoint to a too-seductive color-harmony.
Elsewhere, the layers of color sometimes look overworked and the placement of color areas--pale blue, peach, brown, rust are favorites--veers toward a politely decorative approach. When Okabayashi works on a diminutive scale (15x15 inches), landscape references drain away altogether, and the results seem inconclusive. (Earl McGrath Gallery, 454 N. Robertson Ave., to July 7.)