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Richard Long Makes His Mark in a New Way, With Works of Permanence

February 04, 2000|LEAH OLLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For nearly 35 years, Richard Long has been making his mark upon the earth gently, through the soulful art of taking walks in the countryside, aligning stones in a circle, making a ring of handprints on a wall or pondering the shifting direction of the wind.

He thinks of his work as a ritualization of his life. It is personal, often solitary, but intimately linked to universal, timeless mark-making practices of the species--and also to the earth itself, which generates the work and to which the work ultimately returns.

In his current show at Griffin Contemporary, the British-born Long heads in a slightly different direction than usual. He does show a large circle (13 feet in diameter) of petrified wood, and another group of petrified wood chunks in an 8-foot tapered line, by now gestures characteristic of his sensibility. But for the first time, he also presents discrete, modest-sized works that hang on the wall like paintings. They are portable and permanent, a deviation from his typical practice of enacting temporary installations on site.

The untitled works, all dating from this young year, are variably sized, smooth wood panels (oak, maple, pine and ebony), marked by rows, ellipses or random patterns of Long's fingerprints in River Avon mud or china clay. Quietly elegant, they have the immediacy of drawings and the mass of slight sculptures.

They work on the imagination in much the same way as Long's more familiar gestures--by appearing simple and obvious at first, their significance mounting as the essential power of the mark of the hand sinks in. These primal autographs amount to a basic yet profound affirmation of being.

The most stirring are the slightest, the narrow slats of wood with a single row of prints, repeated like a drumbeat, a heartbeat or the regular, repeated rhythm of footsteps. One tall piece, nearly 8 feet high and only a few inches wide, has a totemic presence, its single stack of prints like a tower of stones.

On the wall opposite the panels, Long has made a spiral of 2,000 fingerprints in mud. It's a soft echo of the petrified wood circle on the floor directly below--a tribute perhaps to our new year, and like all of the artist's work a tribute to the continuity of life, spirit and Earth.

* Griffin Contemporary, 915 Electric Ave., Venice, (310) 452-1014, through March 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Promising New World: Maritta Tapanainen titled two of her spunky new collages at Couturier Gallery "Garden" and "Laboratory," but the names could easily hold for the entire group. A sense of growth and experimental, dynamic change prevail throughout.

The Finnish-born Tapanainen, who was raised in Canada and lived in Central America, the Mojave Desert, Europe and now Southern California, cites her disparate residences and wide-ranging travels as significant influences on her collage aesthetic. Extracting, adapting and recontextualizing are processes fundamental to both her life and work.

In each of the collages, most of which are roughly the size of a standard sheet of paper, Tapanainen jumbles together irregular patches of blank, yellowed paper with snippets of black and white photographic reproductions, diagrams and illustrations, taken primarily from scientific texts. Both the aged-looking paper and the arcane imagery are not just recycled but resuscitated, endowed with new vitality in a two-dimensional cosmos of Tapanainen's own creation.

Plants with spiny skins and leaves with explicit vein structures mingle with pressure gauges, hoops, coils and bridges. Lungs and nautilus shells orbit around one another. Targets hover near human feet, birds and buttons.

Tapanainen is more than resourceful with her materials, she is playful and witty in their combination. She sets organic elements and mechanical devices to conspiring. She liberates familiar images from their conventional meanings and assumes unfettered permission to come up with new ones. Everything doubles as something else in this free-associative wonderland.

Such verve and visual charisma bring to mind Dada collages and photomontages from the years just following World War I--especially the works of Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann. Nostalgia spreads its patina over this animated, floating world-in-process, but a sense of promise and new growth is even stronger.

* Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 933-5557, through Feb. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Light and the City: Simon Callery's reputation precedes him. He's the young (born in 1960) British painter whose first solo show in a London gallery was snatched up in its entirety one lunch hour by the advertising magnate and controversial collector Charles Saatchi. That made Callery a sensation back home. His inclusion in the Brooklyn Museum's recent attention-grabber, "Sensation," drawn exclusively from Saatchi's collection, has started to do the trick right here.

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