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Art Review

June 05, 1998|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Too Close for Comfort: Last seen in Los Angeles three years ago at the Lannan Foundation, Gary Simmons' mural-size "Erasure Drawings" bid farewell to that institution's critically acclaimed exhibition program by evoking a chilling sense of abandoned responsibilities and broken promises. This year, at Margo Leavin Gallery, a suite of poignant new works on paper and a breathtaking wall-drawing by the New York-based artist give shape to a similar sense of impending doom, yet with more forcefulness than before.

Titled "Subtlety of a Train Wreck," Simmons' approximately 18-by-33-foot picture of two locomotives hurtling toward one another towers over viewers and extends well beyond your peripheral vision. To set foot in the sky-lit gallery is to feel as if you're in the front row of a wide-screen movie theater: Holding on by the seat of your pants, you struggle to withstand the visual spectacle that threatens to bowl you over.

Drawn in white chalk over a rectangular section of the wall that has been painted with the material used to repair schoolroom blackboards, the pair of engines angle outward from the picture-plane along the dramatic lines formed by a two-point perspective. It appears as if their momentum will carry them into the middle of the room, where they'll crash, much too close for comfort.

Simmons intensifies this impression by using his hands, arms and body to furiously smear every line of the monumental chalk drawing. His vigorous gestures animate the image, transforming it from a static depiction of a past event into a work that lives in the present.

It's clear that he expended much more physical energy attempting to rub out his haunting drawing than in laying down its precise white lines. You can't help but feel that immediately upon finishing, he didn't like what he saw and tried to get rid of it.

Of course, his efforts fell short, and a pair of blurry locomotives remain poised on the brink of crashing into you. Once art gets started, not even the artist can stop its motion or prevent its impact.

Twenty works on paper, depicting old-fashioned train stations, signal lanterns, Pullman conductors and boarded-up doors put viewers in similar positions. In front of these fiercely elegant images, dim memories come crashing back into focus, reminding you that today's tragedies will fade and blur as time passes, but never completely disappear as long as artists like Simmons are on hand to bring them back.

* Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 273-0603, through July 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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