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ART REVIEWS : Vistas Captured in Blurry Traces of Light

July 28, 1994|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The palette and format of Tom Lieber's abstract paintings at Koplin Gallery evoke the natural landscape, recalling that the roots of a major branch of American abstraction run back to nature, where sweeping, panoramic views and breathtaking vistas seem to happen by accident.

Learning that the artist splits his time between a redwood forest north of San Francisco and a summer home on an island in Maine adds to the impression that he is a painter of the great outdoors. Yet, a restless, urban energy pulses through Lieber's highly traditional compositions, giving them enough tension to ensure that they are more than nostalgic visits to an outdated style.

The luminous flashes and burning lights that shine forth from his otherwise subdued, mist-saturated canvases look like the tail lights of distant cars on rain-soaked city streets. Even Lieber's calligraphic brush strokes possess the whiplash pace of the city, echoing the swift movement of traffic as it switches directions in split-seconds.

The impersonality of these scribbled, gestural flourishes distinguishes Lieber's paintings from their Expressionist forebears. The freewheeling sweeps of his paintbrush don't lead viewers back to a hidden, secret self, but out toward an accessible realm of shared, social space.

It isn't difficult to imagine that Lieber's images are the juicy, painterly versions of photographs made over long exposures, or when the camera itself is subjected to jerky movements. All three techniques cause the visible world to dissolve into blurry traces of light.

Lieber's fluid landscapes give substantial shape to the intersection between expressions and impressions, revealing that painting and viewing travel on the same two-way street, and often catch you looking in both directions at once.

* Koplin Gallery, 1438 9th St., Santa Monica, (310) 319-9956, through Aug. 27. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Aggressive Banality: Covered with wads of paper pulp, clusters of cigarette butts, a fuzzy toilet-seat pad, macrame, macaroni and paint squirted through cake frosters, Randy Wray's four abstract paintings at Christopher Grimes Gallery seem to embrace a voracious, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink inclusiveness.

Almost anything that isn't too heavy and might be found in a middle-class home is stuck to their tacky surfaces. Plastered with doilies, tie-dyed fabrics, braided hair extensions and the little cushions that pad the corns on people's feet, Wray's canvases have instantaneous appeal. They function like giant sheets of fly-paper.

However, the young, New York-based artist's aggressive mixes of media lack the vitality suggested by their outlandish inventories of materials. Visually, these pieces don't hold your eyes for much longer than a glance. It is as if Wray has forgotten that viewers are more complicated than flies.

Soon you begin to feel that you've seen all this before. Wray's images too explicitly imitate 1970s Pattern and Decoration painting. They are also too heavily indebted to a cliched version of collage and a lightweight interpretation of assemblage.

Recycling domestic leftovers is easier than reinvigorating past styles of art. Far from being inclusive explorations of unexpected materials, Wray's works turn out to be tight-fisted revisions of earlier art forms. His paintings fail to hide their art-school opportunism under thick layers of stuff.

* Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through Sept. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Life's Intermissions: Uta Barth makes captivating photographs of the spaces between things. Even more remarkably, her beautiful little pictures at Domestic Setting seem to take place in the uneventful time between ordinary incidents.

Inhabiting dead time and consisting of almost nothing but negative space, Barth's images of plain, white walls are often just barely interrupted by an out-of-focus window sill, a curtain's edge, a section of molding, a picture frame or a bookshelf's corner. At first glance, her pictures resemble snapshots made by mistake, when the camera was aimed away from its intended subject.

Yet, Barth's seemingly random photographs are beautifully composed. Impeccably mounted on handsome wood panels, her Ektacolor prints embody a solid sense of deliberation. Their rich, creamy tones and masterful treatment of ambient light give them the palpability and presence of accomplished monochrome paintings.

These blurry pictures of nothing in particular are visual analogues to inattentiveness. By inviting the viewer to focus on background information that is usually ignored, Barth elicits an intriguing type of attention, in which incidental details are more persuasive than whatever is at the center of your vision.

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