An artifact is a memory in the form of an object; when New York abstractionist Moira Dryer describes her paintings as artifacts, one assumes she is alluding to the memory bank of art history. Her work--a post-modern form of field painting that owes a major debt to Clyfford Still and Ross Bleckner--manages to invoke several disparate chunks of the past.
Various forms of representational art, including landscape and still life, are swirling in the mist generated by these florid-colored canvases, and they also incorporate aspects of '60s stripe painting, Surrealism, Conceptualism, and sculpture. Several of the canvases on view at the Fred Hoffman Gallery in Santa Monica are embellished with hardware (grommets and screws) or cut-out shapes that transform them from paintings into objects. Those extra little flourishes also serve to invest Dryer's work with a mannered self-consciousness that allows it to be read as a comical updating of geometric abstraction.
Dryer launched her career in the early '80s working for avant-garde theater company Mabou Mines, and that early training is evident in this work. She is big on eye-popping dazzle, and like backdrops for a Robert Wilson stage production, her work reads well from a distance.
One canvas appears to be riddled with bullet holes, while another is defaced with large, lurid green splotches. They're very flashy paintings, eager to be pretty, amusing and smart. Dryer claims to be interested in what she describes as "emotional presence" rather than theory, and that's readily apparent in her work. While firmly grounded in academic thought, these are highly sensual paintings engaged in an intense flirtation with the idea of chaos.
Also on view are four large works by Ellsworth Kelly that span 23 years in the career of this seminal hard-edge abstractionist. A pioneer in the use of shaped canvases and flat uninflected color, Kelly hasn't changed much over the course of 35 years of exhibiting, if this selection of work is an accurate reflection of his evolution. A 1965 work isn't noticeably different from a piece from 1988; both are rigorously formal yet rapturously lush.
\o7 Fred Hoffman: 912 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica; to April 20; (213) 394-4199. Closed Sundays and Mondays.\f7
Resurrected Kitsch: An exhibition of paintings by New York artist Donald Baechler, on view at the James Corcoran Gallery in Santa Monica, could be described as a meditation on lost innocence. Employing crude symbols and motifs associated with Outsider art (a term referring to folk art, the art of the insane, and children's art), Baechler paints in a labored, amateurish way. These big, goofy renderings of beach balls and quaint Dutch boys in traditional garb feel leaden. They flaunt their confusion openly and you can feel the artist struggling to "draw correctly," even as you sense that Baechler's work grows out of a sophisticated sensibility acutely aware that "drawing correctly" simply isn't enough these days. The world is too complicated now, and too many long held ideas have been shattered for renaissance perspective to mean what it once did.
Exiled from an ordered universe where things are as they appear to be, Baechler's work struggles to empower kitsch imagery that's been drained of meaning through overuse. There's a touching quality of defeat and desperation to the futile campaign waged by these curious paintings, and you find yourself empathizing with them despite the fact that they're painful to look at. \o7 James Corcoran Gallery: 1327 5th St., Santa Monica; to April 20; (213) 451-4666. Closed Sundays and Mondays.\f7
American Mystic: In the tradition of America's visionary nature painters Albert Pinkham Ryder, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove, New York artist Bill Jensen's watercolors, on view at the Margo Leavin Gallery in Hollywood, espouse a mystical view of the universe. Presently at mid-career, Jensen was raised in the Midwest and his abstracted landscapes combine an unbridled love of the vast, undulating American plains with a solemn reverence for work by the pioneers of American modernism. There's not a trace of irony to these paintings--Jensen wears his heart and his influences bravely on his sleeve.
Jensen has a rather eccentric sense of composition and he tends to cram the picture plane with bulging forms. There is a ripe, sexual subtext to these turbulent, crowded images and Jensen has a beautifully rhythmic way of navigating hairpin turns in paint. He also manages to communicate the ruthless indifference of nature with uncommon subtlety; intimations of mortality abound in this haunted work.
\o7 Margo Leavin Gallery: 812 N. Robertson Blvd., Hollywood; to April 27; (213)-273-0603. Closed Sundays and Mondays. \f7