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A Winding, Rewarding Adventure With Wily Guide Charles Garabedian

March 10, 2000|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To visit Charles Garabedian's enchanting exhibition at L.A. Louver Gallery is to embarkon an adventure with no end in sight. After looking at a handful of the 77-year-old artist's two dozen paintings on paper and canvas, you're not sure where he plans to take you. After looking at a few more, you begin to doubt that Garabedian even knows where he's going.

Viewing the rest is all edgy pleasure, provided you accompany the artist on imaginative journeys that sometimes lead to places dense with mystery but at other times leave you lost, unable to see the forest for the trees. His willingness to follow his hunches and honor his intuitions makes him a wily guide to otherwise invisible worlds.

At once meaty and dreamy, Garabedian's wide-ranging images fall into four categories: figures, doodles, buildings and places. Transformation is a constant in his fertile works, with seemingly solid objects changing states right before your eyes.

Figures often dissolve into abstract patterns or spin through space, accumulating extra eyes and mouths as they go. At other times they take the shape of a Cyclops, a Chinese dragon or antique statues with broken limbs. All are animated by a cartoonish energy at once anxious and lyrical.

The doodles either solidify into idiosyncratic emblems, like "Homage to MH," which looks like a mandala with attention deficit disorder, or drift off into space as if painted on clouds, like "Along the Road," "Henry Inn #8" or "Casual Find."

Garabedian's pictures of architectural elements have the presence of studies. Here, among his more adventuresome works, they function like rest stops--momentary respites on trips jam-packed with highlights.

The brightest highlights are Garabedian's paintings of places, in which he weaves elements from all these categories into translucent tapestries whose narrative strands travel in many directions simultaneously. Your eye enters and departs from "The Road to Oxiana" at so many different points that this work fully embodies the idea that going somewhere is more exciting than getting there.

In "Salmon Studio," a fleshy stew of abstract patterns and simple emblems, Garabedian tips his hat to Matisse and Guston, as odd a couple as can be found in the pantheon of Modern painters. "Butterflies," the show-stopping standout, represents Garabedian at his creative best. Marrying love, suffering and death in a bittersweet melange, this hauntingly beautiful canvas gives vivid form to the nervous apprehension and deep satisfactions of living life on the edge.

* L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 N. Venice Blvd, Venice, (310) 822-4955, through March 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

*

Restless Pictures: "Stiffs," the new light-and-sound installation Jennifer Steinkamp made in collaboration with sound engineer Jimmy Johnson, parts company with her earlier works because it doesn't use architectural space to build bodily impact. Rather than creating the mind-bending sensation that the walls, floor and ceiling are dissolving into a liquid stew with a pulse of its own, this extraordinary installation at Art Center College of Design's Williamson Gallery works directly on a viewer's body (not to mention one's mind).

To step into the darkened gallery is to feel as if you've entered a movie theater through a service door facing the side of the screen. To get a better view, you head to the left, where you see that Steinkamp has constructed a compressed multiplex of her own: six separate screens, each about as wide as an ordinary doorway and as deep as a suitcase, which extend from the floor to the 20-foot ceiling.

Projected onto each plinth-like screen is a computer-generated array of lines, shapes and colors, whose compositions continually shift as their elements accelerate, slow down, stop and start up again. Like abstract paintings that are too restless to settle into static formats, Steinkamp's skinny images resemble contour maps of lava flows on fast-forward, superimposed over abstract views of water lapping on a harbor's shore. As if hyperactive offspring of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," they also appear to record an earthworm's EKG, its 12 hearts pumping as if each had a mind of its own.

Slicing the spectrum into six segments, Steinkamp's high-tech "stripe paintings" simultaneously filter traditional tints through the techno-glow of electronically transmitted energy. Magenta replaces violet; pink usurps red; blue is softened by aquamarine; green has a lime tone; yellow gets a hint of gold; and orange a lemony lilt.

So mesmerizing are the overlapping patterns set up by Steinkamp's projections that you nearly forget to walk to the other end of the large gallery--where everything appears in reverse, as if you've stepped through a mirror. But don't stop there. The best place to experience "Stiffs" is from up close, wandering among its double-sided screens, which do double-duty as speakers for Johnson's weirdly hypnotic soundtrack.

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