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Art Review

An Unhappy Past Haunts Georganne Deen's Work

October 01, 1998|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ten years ago, art about failure and pain enjoyed a moment of fame and respectability. Today, striving to make work that looks downtrodden and pathetic lacks the resonance it once had.

This seems to suit Georganne Deen just fine; her paintings and works on paper have never sought the spotlight for its own sake. Instead, the L.A.-based artist's crudely rendered figurative images have consistently preferred to stew in the resentment-laced aftermath of her own unhappy upbringing.

Like Deen's brutally honest earlier works, her 15 new works at Christopher Grimes Gallery paint a picture of a life so thoroughly shot through with trauma and cruelty that the mere idea of happiness appears to be an outlandish fantasy.

A dreary palette of dirty browns, rusty reds and bruised blues sets the tone of these intentionally dispirited images. Cartoonish depictions of monstrous women, amputees and religious hypocrites star in sour vignettes in which fleeting sexual pleasure is treated as poor recompense for months of sorrow and years of suffering.

Short, sarcastic phrases punctuate Deen's works, driving home the idea that life is not what it's cracked up to be. Painted in a folksy style that's anything but naive, her grim pictures give form to a world-weariness in which once-intense bitterness has mellowed into jaded resignation. Expecting little from life is passed off as deep wisdom by these corrosive celebrations of sad-sack dissatisfaction.

Given the personalized subject matter of Deen's paintings, it's strange that they're so generic. Unlike her earlier canvases, which are filled with scathing specifics, her recent pictures are surprisingly bland and often trite.

Although tempered by a healthy dose of self-deprecation, these paintings fail to rise above the overwrought self-involvement of someone who won't stop talking about what they said to their therapist. Misery may love company, but it's very difficult to make convincing art out of it.

*

* Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through Oct. 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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