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ART REVIEW : Convention Unites With Gay Fantasy


Keith Mayerson's second solo show is a visual hallucination waiting for viewer participation.

Titled "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell!," his intentionally disparate body of work at Richard Telles Fine Art is charming, barbed, baffling and wacky. Nevertheless, Mayerson's over-the-top piling up of pictures, styles and media is too confused to rise above its no-holds-barred embrace of open-ended potential.

Consisting of 106 paintings, drawings and photographs--or about 10 times the number of works in an average exhibition--his jam-packed, salon-style display resembles a mad-cap collection of seven or eight storyboards whose individual cels have been shuffled like cards and arranged in loose, thematic clusters.

Rather than weaving specific stories, Mayerson's mix-and-match groupings elicit generic moods and evoke vague ambiences.

New Yorker-style cartoons, describing a dozen unverifiable Keanu Reaves sightings, are juxtaposed with thickly painted portraits of pets. Exquisite black-and-white drawings adorned with poetic inscriptions in French hang beside snapshots of a gray-haired man masturbating. And album-cover psychedelia from the 1960s serves as an all-purpose backdrop for bright acrylics in which a couple of boys have fantastic homo-erotic adventures.

Mayerson's best series is based on an irreverent gloss of the comic strip "Archie." Any one of these dense, pastel-toned watercolors embodies more upended cliches than any other series exhibited.

This component of Mayerson's show stands out because it effectively fuses interpretive freedom with artistic intention. Multi-layered ambiguity and pointed specificity dovetail in these drawings' marriage of Middle American domesticity and outlandish gay fantasy.

In contrast, Mayerson's other pictures look transitory and apologetic, like guilt-ridden efforts whose labor intensity is meant to make up for their lack of purpose.

Although his myriad new works are not as endearing nor as loaded as those in his first exhibition, "Pinocchio the Big Fag," they still allow the promising, 28-year-old, L.A.-based artist to flaunt his facility as an illustrator and to demonstrate his strengths as a spinner of poignantly twisted--if indistinct--tales.

* Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., (213) 965-5578, through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays. *

Feminine Mystique: Ellen Phelan's 10 beautiful paintings at Patricia Faure Gallery depict ghostly landscapes, dark flowers and creepy dolls. Endowed with a sinister edge, these conventional symbols of femininity are both more and less than what they appear to be. In the New York-based artist's seductively understated oils-on-linen, images seem to vanish before your eyes, only to stamp themselves indelibly in your memory.

Phelan's haunting land and seascapes look as if they are made of nothing but air. Vaporous washes of turpentine and diaphanous veils of color appear to drift above the surfaces of these paintings at the same time that the images they conjure appear to recede into the depths of illusionistic space.

In front of Phelan's mysterious images of fog-shrouded trees and cloud-covered seas, shadowy absences and shimmering presences shift positions with mesmeric intensity. Silent, timeless serenity teeters on the cusp of unimaginable disaster. Even the artist's most benignly attractive pictures seem hinged on the brink of impending tragedies or poised in the moment after barely averted traumas.

Some of Phelan's dolls and flowers bear similar burdens, especially those painted in elegiac grays and muted browns. Paradoxically, the starkest, most explicit images are the least captivating. "Ballerina," in which a brilliant, blood-red bouquet explodes like fireworks, and "A Star," which depicts a female figure dissolving in an orange-tinted mist, too quickly yield their secrets by too dramatically intimating an undercurrent of violence.

By contrast, Phelan's best paintings slowly unfold over long expanses of time. They never articulate particular messages or describe specific locations but gradually build their intrigue by preventing their metaphors from being taken literally.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through Oct. 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays. *

Hypnotic Dances: Initially, Max Cole's six stripe paintings at Kiyo Higashi Gallery don't look very different from a similar group of six she showed here exactly one year ago. Indeed, a sense of deja vu is central to her rigorous abstractions, in which mind-numbing patterns repeat themselves with such intensity and frequency that time doesn't seem to pause or stutter before them as much as it seems to circle back on itself.

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