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Art Review

September 26, 1997|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Delicate Touch: At Kohn Turner Gallery, a fine group of paintings on paper and canvas by Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) highlights her capacity to infuse brooding, somber subjects with a light, calligraphic touch. More fragile and evanescent than most works that broach such issues as death, primal myth and regeneration, this selection of gestural abstractions never gets heavy-handed. Ponderous themes are instead conveyed with grace and delicacy.

Part of the power of DeFeo's abstract images resides in their size. Not too much bigger than the pages of a large book, her works on paper invite one-on-one intimacy.

Plus, their compact format ensures that the gestures they record emanate from DeFeo's wrist, rather than her shoulder. As a result, the depicted forms are restrained, wispy and often animated by tentative, quivering lines.

Likewise, the compositions are simple and straightforward. Totemic, quasi-figurative elements hover in front of shadowy backgrounds or dark, well-worked surfaces.

Made in Florence in 1952 and 1953, just after DeFeo had graduated from Berkeley and won a travel grant, her works on paper reflect very little of their surroundings. Even the crosses that occasionally appear seem more prehistoric than Christian.

Significantly larger, the two oils-on-canvas are similarly self-contained and understated. Bodily scaled and neither bombastic nor overwrought, both canvases maintain the quietly introspective character of DeFeo's humble paintings on paper.

* Kohn Turner Gallery, 454 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 854-5400, through Oct. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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