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ART REVIEWS : Kelly's Pattern of Multileveled Intent

March 24, 1995|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Mark Moore Gallery, four large paintings by Seattle-based Ken Kelly share the following characteristics: a thick, tentacular line that owes quite a bit to Art Nouveau; a devotion to bilateral symmetry; and a palette that looks as if it were dredged from beneath the earth. Kelly's paintings mix up the sensual excesses of decoration with the clinical atmospherics of a Rorschach test. They are unusual and deliberately staged.

You can begin to think about this work in the context of a return of Pattern and Decoration art. Like Philip Taaffe, Kelly loads his canvases with seductive shapes that are repeated and multiplied into complex configurations. These shapes resemble intestines, sea creatures or wrought iron; they are allusive, but in the service of ornamentation.

Kelly uses a stencil to perfect these undulant forms. He is not concerned with expression but, rather unexpectedly, with precision. This premeditation and look of uniformity is exacerbated by the mirroring effects of which he is so fond.

All of the paintings, like Rorschachs, look as if they have been folded in two along the vertical axis; some mirror themselves along the horizontal register as well. One image, called "Tart," is particularly astounding, almost mathematical in its incessantly doubled doubling effects.

The psychological element of this work creeps up on you. What makes you most edgy is the way the paintings trip up the two-dimensionality they seem to reinforce. Instead of emphasizing the surface, they flirt--quite dangerously--with depth.

In "Punch," for example, a shadowy afterimage lingers in the background, a distorted double of the luxuriously pliant form that dominates the painting. The overall effect is one of instability--a roundabout, but nonetheless effective way to get at the dynamism that characterizes the most interesting abstract painting today.

* Mark Moore Gallery, 2032 - A Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through April 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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RV Lifestyle: It's hard to make a compelling painting when your subject is something as bland as a camper. Dave Smith, in new work at Crossing Gallery, does his best.

Smith's campers are minutely rendered in all their glory (such as it is): fake wood paneling; multiple tones of beige, high-gloss paint; jaunty stripes and peculiar humps that turn out to be entire slide-out rooms. Silhouetted against expanses of highly saturated color (a glorious apricot, a luscious bright blue), Smith's campers would look quite a bit like precious jewels if their banality didn't intrude so egregiously.

For Smith, the camper is a talisman, the way a madeleine was for Marcel Proust--only very, very different. The camper signifies tourism and the way the tourist commodifies everything he sees, from monuments to nature. Thus, the juxtaposition of these recreational vehicles with sketchy images of Mt. Rushmore, anonymous landscapes, florid sunsets and so on.

Some of the paintings feature expanses of cowboy and Indian fabric, quite in keeping with the general thrust of things; or black-and-white images of bathroom fixtures, whose sinister sparkle alludes to the predatory nature of the consumerist impulse. The layered effect of these latter pieces owes something to David Salle; the crystalline renderings of ordinary objects recall 1970s Photorealism. And yet the mix is somewhat unsatisfying.

This becomes evident after looking at Smith's smaller drawings, which pair black-and-white renderings of campers with long texts that enumerate the options today's luxury RV offers: refrigerator with ice maker, smoke detector, designer pillow package, decorator wall clock, water purifier, etc. These image-text pieces are far more economical; they say what needs to be said without waste. The paintings seem to be trying too hard, the effort far exceeding the results.

* Crossing Gallery, 1104 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 358-9359, through April 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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