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Revisiting Technical Wizardry on Paper


Lawrence Gipe's exquisitely rendered paintings of planes, trains and automobiles; of factories puffing their smoke into the coal-black sky; and of the stern jaws of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln, carved out of the rock of Mt. Rushmore, mean to wreak havoc on our culture's manic faith in progress.

Gipe gleans his images from photographs, advertisements and films from the first half of this century and illustrates them in romantic fashion. Tricks including (but not limited to) steep angles, flickering light and virtuoso one-point perspective suck you in as surely as a wind tunnel.

Gipe is diligent, not only about letting us know what to feel but also telling us what to think. Words or phrases like "Shrine of Democracy!," "Steam's Up!" and "Complicity" are emblazoned onto the images in bright red, like captions alerting us to be cautious of the rhetoric of government and industry.

This can be annoying. But ironically, what rescues the work from didactic free fall is Gipe's own technical wizardry. The artist would seem to be implicating himself in the paintings' indictment of "mastery."

At Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, a selection of Gipe's works on paper from the last three or four years retreads old territory. For those who haven't seen the work before, the drawings provide a decent introduction to Gipe's 1990 "Themes for a fin de siecle," the 1995 "Montage" series and the more recent "Documentary Painting" series, the latter of which departs from Gipe's familiar aesthetic in terms of the dreaminess of its montage.

The drawback of this show is that, in the absence of the paintings' large scale, fine resolution and glowing oils, Gipe's provocative if somewhat static project looks far weaker than it is.

* Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2625 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-1133, through Aug. 17. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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