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Art Review

April 10, 1998|DAVID PAGEL

Meditating: Matthew Thomas' new works look like small paintings yet function like talismans. At Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 28 abstract images invite viewers to give themselves over to a meditative state in which individual desire gives way to selfless serenity.

That's a task to which monks of many religions have dedicated their lives for centuries. It's a measure of Thomas' achievement that his humble, understated art doesn't come off as portentous, even if it doesn't always succeed.

Most of the L.A.-based artist's pieces consist of a square sheet of copper into which he has inscribed a variety of geometric shapes before nailing it, face-down, to a wood panel. Partially painted and partially covered with gold leaf, these copper reliefs are surrounded by monochromatic layers of encaustic, whose milky smoothness provides a contrasting frame for the reflective metal. Bits of frayed silk and lengths of brightly colored string, along with an occasional bundle of tiny sticks, also adorn Thomas' intimate abstractions.

Some works resemble miniature Tibetan thankas. Others recall East Asian mandalas, Native American sand paintings or the elaborate patterns found in Islamic architecture and decoration.

Although art the size of Thomas' often appears to be precious, his modest paintings are neither overwrought nor fussy. On the contrary, their irregular patterns, obscured inscriptions and peeling gold leaf give them a sense of fragility and transience that mirrors life's larger imperfections.

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* Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 2046 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 829-3300, through April 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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