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Decorating Dreams: It's Interior Design

July 02, 1999|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Howard Arkley's paintings depict the dreams stuff is made of. Warm, fuzzy and of the moment, these airbrushed canvases give substance to the emotional connections city dwellers forge with their immediate environments.

The Australian painter's interiors at Karyn Lovegrove Gallery have been lifted from furniture magazines and interior decoration brochures. But in Arkley's slightly out-of-focus pictures, a chair is never just a chair. Nor is a lamp merely a light source, nor a set of drapes simply a means of attaining a little privacy.

Furniture, rugs and architectural elements do their daily duties to provide functional comforts while simultaneously giving shape to fantasies and defining individualized lifestyles. The 48-year-old artist's U.S. solo debut celebrates the democratic aspects of high design.

What's most refreshing about Arkley's images is that they refrain from playing snobbish games of interior-decorating one-upmanship. Never following the rules for their own sake, his keyed-up canvases are sprayed in a palette many viewers might think of as tasteless.

In one, a hot pink rug sits on a fiery red floor before a blazing orange credenza and a burgundy wall. In another, a lime-green wall and a lavender floor frame floor-length drapes on which is printed a black-and-white pattern of uncharacteristic crispness.

Equally kinky are Arkley's exteriors, with freeway overpasses rendered in delicate shades of pink, blue and dove gray, and Modernist apartment buildings done up in creamy, sorbet hues.

Two of the best paintings are close-ups of tract homes adorned with flowers and foliage. The meandering patterns that make up the contours of these stylized plants and trees play off the straight lines of the houses and sidewalks. Arkley softens their potentially harsh geometry by giving everything a gray outline. This causes his vibrant pictures to appear to hover in the air like impossible mirages, wondrous visions both unattainable and unforgettable.

* Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 525-1755, through Aug. 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Mixed Media: As if possessed by the spirits of other art forms, Glenn Brown's works at Patrick Painter Inc. possess characteristics that ordinarily define the heart and soul of other media. For example, his sculptures behave like paintings and his paintings look like photographs that often appear to have been manipulated by computers.

Rather than diminishing the strength of the young London-based artist's objects and images, this ambivalence endows them with an edgy restlessness as exquisite as it is cold-blooded, at once hyper-refined and ruthless. A vampire-like shadow falls across all of his art, the best of which makes your skin crawl.

A pair of tabletop sculptures, "We No Longer Wish to Cling to the Life of the Body" and "The Sound of Music," could not be more insistent in their assertion of weight, volume and modeling--sculptural qualities if ever there were any. But each of these richly textured pieces is made almost entirely of paint, slathered layer upon layer.

More significantly, Brown has painted his sculptures as if they were objects in traditional figurative paintings, dramatically lit by a single light source. Each abstract piece doesn't have a proper front and back so much as a colorful side bathed in bright light and a dark side shrouded in deep shadows. No matter how they are actually lit, one side remains mossy and mysterious.

Brown's paintings bear parasitic relationships to their sources, subjects and techniques. Dali's 1931 "Autumn Cannibalism" is freely cannibalized by the young artist's "Oscillate Wildly"; his "Zombies of the Stratosphere" transforms a painting by Arnold Bocklin into a prop-like cutout as tacky as it is creepy.

Based on Frank Auerbach's thickly built-up oils, Brown's portraits make Gerhard Richter's blurry images look sappy. The glossy veneer of a Cibachrome infects Brown's images, whose razor-thin skins of paint look so much like photographs of paintings that it's hard to believe your eyes. Fusing photography and painting, his work also melds Dorian Gray and his portrait, forming mutations that may not be vital but are undeniably powerful.

* Patrick Painter Inc., Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through July 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Mind Flip: Described in words, Carl Ostendarp's big paintings don't sound like much: Each about 5 1/2-by-6 1/2-foot canvas depicts two cartoon hands set against a flat, monochromatic field of robin's egg blue, black, raspberry or yellow. Yet, the longer you look at these deadpan images, the livelier they become.

Most peculiar is their power to stick in your memory while defying your ability to say just why they're so resonant.

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