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ART REVIEW : Dry-Eyed Funeral Portraits

April 24, 1993|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On view at Koplin Gallery is an intriguing, if uneven, exhibition of paintings by Kerry James Marshall. There is little trace of sentiment in Marshall's imaginary funeral portraits of African-American youths. Collectively titled "The Lost Boys A.K.A.," these small images ring the room, evoking the tragedy of anonymous lives cut short by the tragedy of ignominious deaths.

The paintings do this work with admirable restraint. Here, the struggle for identity is expressed in the gleam of an earring, an idiosyncratic hairstyle, a brightly colored shirt. Yet the sameness of the faces, all without depth and painted the deepest black, suggests the extent to which the dominant culture relentlessly erases the individuality of the African-American male.

Less compelling are Marshall's large-scale, narrative paintings. While the artist displays a keen eye for color and composition, he too often succumbs to the siren-call of the cliche--the barbershop as community writ small; the fragility of childhood innocence; the yellow "Do Not Cross" police tape as ghetto motif. The stories the artist means to tell are important; their power ought not to be blunted by such conventions.

Koplin Gallery, 1438 9th St., Santa Monica, (310) 319-9959, through May 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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