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Art Review

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

No Wallflower: "Apocalyptic Wallpaper" was a term famously coined by critic Harold Rosenberg in the 1950s to describe paintings that failed because the artists who made them didn't manage to get enough of their selves (or their souls) onto the canvas. This disparaging phrase dramatically conveyed the idea that, in producing nothing more than blandly decorative wallpaper, artists were not living fully or authentically; instead, they met their existential ends in uninspired wall-coverings, parceled out by the yard.

Robert Rahway Zakanitch's shamelessly decorative paintings turn this notion inside-out. Bold, muscular and vigorous, his gigantic pictures of flowers, fruits and frilly patterns insist that it doesn't matter whether artists find themselves in their work. What counts is that their works are sufficiently engaging for viewers to lose themselves in, if only momentarily.

Measuring more than 11 by 30 feet, each of the five unstretched canvases that make up Zakanitch's "Big Bungalow Suite" provides plenty of visual stimulation to get lost in. Composed of irregularly repeated floral elements and odd, window-like interruptions, each juicy, drip-splattered image is a world that is as welcoming as it is complex.

Playful rhythms emanate from these fun-loving paintings, which cannot be mistaken for wallflowers. Simultaneously aggressive and inviting, their jampacked surfaces form cacophonous backdrops for multiple, mix-and-match conversations.

Zakanitch combines the everyday pleasures of comfortable homes with the synergistic buzz of crowded restaurants. The vitality of social interaction is put far in front of the self-involved dramas of introspective analysis.

At Patricia Faure Gallery, panels II and V provide only a hint of the rambunctious energy coursing and pulsing through the three other panels, which are gorgeously installed at Scripps College's Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. (The drive is well worth it.) Under the bright lights, and given sufficient elbow-room, numbers I, III and IV hide the hard work that went into them in the satisfactions they deliver.

To get caught up in the life-affirming grandeur of Zakanitch's paintings is to understand that having fun seems easy only as long as it lasts.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through Oct. 18; closed Sundays and Mondays; and Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, (909) 607-3397, through Oct. 19; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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