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Art Review

April 10, 1998|DAVID PAGEL

Simple Yet . . . Not: It's a pleasure to see Carolee Toon's new paintings at Kiyo Higashi Gallery. Ravishingly beautiful, these sophisticated images of nothing but color demonstrate that highly refined abstractions are never too virtuous to play fast and loose with goofy humor.

Much of the resonance of Toon's exquisitely painted panels resides in the ingenious ways they conflate such seemingly mindless diversions as cartoons with such traditionally solemn endeavors as monochrome painting--as austere an exercise of single-minded seriousness as ever there was one.

Like her breakthrough exhibition from the fall of 1996, Toon's current show includes examples of her most inventive works: vertically oriented pieces of fine plywood whose edges have been sanded to form oblique angles. The front surfaces of these oddly shaped panels cover significantly smaller areas than their backs, which hang flush with the wall.

Consequently, the meticulously built-up layers of pigment that cover the fronts of Toon's paintings are surrounded by eight to 10 very thin layers of wood, each slightly bigger than the one atop it. Simultaneously behind and outside of the painted areas they surround, these alternating layers of dark and light wood-grain both frame and support Toon's paintings, forming casual, meandering outlines that echo each work's contour.

Likewise, a single diptych is made up of a pair of hardwood panels whose edges are not perpendicular to its frontal surfaces. Wavering as they slant inward and outward, the irregular edges of this piece cause it to resemble a pair of comic-strip speech-bubbles engaged in an animated conversation with each other.

As with all of Toon's work, you don't know whether to gasp at the painting's simplicity or to be astonished by its complexity. Eloquence takes strange shape in these quietly mesmerizing works.

*

* Kiyo Higashi Gallery, 8332 Melrose Ave., (213) 655-2482, through May 23. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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