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Art Review

April 10, 1998|DAVID PAGEL

Look Between the Lines: Keith Sklar's paintings of the Old West look like barnacle-encrusted placards, posters and portraits that have been excavated from history's trash heap. Cleaned up but not fully restored, these battered amalgams of specific images and random detritus document momentous events and commemorate heroic individuals, while attesting to time's capacity to bury such important social occasions under impenetrable layers of anonymity.

Taking the passage of time as their subject, Sklar's congested encrustations of oil and acrylic take more time than usual to be seen. At first, the artist's 15 densely layered paintings at Rosamund Felsen Gallery appear to be muddled messes, clotted accumulations of congealed ooze that seem to have been scraped and scooped from the drain of an art school's washroom.

After a little time passes, iconic images gurgle to the surfaces of Sklar's gnarly paintings. While whole pictures never snap into focus, sufficient details come clear for you to get a sense of the overall image.

In one, the legs and belly of a leaping horse emerge from a chaotic maelstrom of fragments. If you squint, you can just barely make out a rider silhouetted against a vast landscape. Other paintings portray mythical figures from the wild west or generic characters from this era--along with a surplus of indescribable incoherence.

In Sklar's paintings, everything is in constant flux. Just as quickly as recognizable images float into focus, they sink back into obscurity, swallowed up by turbulent surfaces that themselves contain entire armies of paint-slathered plastic soldiers as well as acrylic molds and resin casts of actual cobs of corn and clusters of grapes.

Looking at Sklar's art is like looking at those optical puzzles that sometimes appear in the Sunday comics, where printed patterns yield clear images if you stare at them properly. In contrast to such all-or-nothing exercises, however, Sklar's paintings make a mess of the idea that a precise line divides legibility from its opposite. Residing in a charged, in-between realm, these time-warping works draw viewers into a nether world that is by turns thrilling and terrifying.

*

* Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through April 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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