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A Conceptual Freeway

November 24, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

David Whalen's paintings at the Orlando Gallery are busy-yet-tidy compositions stuffed with cultural and kitschy artifacts, but the chaos is presented with a sense of order.

Hollywood femme fatales blend in smoothly with cheap ceramic figurines and elements of Eastern religion and design. The close-up, interior scenes are well-stocked with high and low cultural objet d'arts.

Whalen's world is a humorous ode to the collector's fixation, an offshoot of the hunting-gathering instinct. These paintings seem to convey how Hollywood's superficial world view encourages us to freely sample exotic cultures like accidental tourists with armfuls of chintzy souvenirs.

There is Jane Russell lounging in the hay in all her seductive splendor. In the painting, her poster is tacked to a wall behind a stand with flowers, a Hindu deity and a kitschy ceramic buckin' bronco. Somehow, the motley assortment adds up to an eclectic artistic bouquet.

"Looking for Love," with its title coyly encoded in hieroglyphics, mixes up a poster image of Claudette Colbert amid Egyptian and Western lore. A young Garbo is the star in "Invocation," but the joke is tucked into the picture. On a pedestal-like table, a ceramic Buddha and a nude female have arms raised as if in a cross-cultural aerobics workout.

"Red Shoes" is a collection of items from a Sears catalog circa 1920. Perhaps the most telling painting is "Collector's Dream," using the famous image from Henri Rousseau's "Sleeping Gypsy." But Whalen has signed his own name to the Rousseau reproduction hanging in an average kitchen area.

The point, perhaps, is that anybody can have his own pretend museum in the comforts of his home. Whalen's paintings, nicely rendered and with a passionate attention to detail, are miniature collections unto themselves.

Also at the Orlando are works by Rob Jacobs in a show titled "The Warriors, the West, the Western Haiku." In some way, Jacobs' work tills ideas similar to Whalen's, in which diverse cultures merge onto a giddy conceptual freeway.

The first two series in the title involve semiabstract works with sensuous, seeping washes of color and forms that make vague allusions to landscapes and figures.

The latter series adds Westernized haiku poetry to the mix, as in: "windows of the wind/flute song of love and passion/movie starts at five."

BE THERE

David Whalen, "Fantome de le Femme," and Rob Jacobs, "The Warriors, the West, the Western Haiku," through Nov. 30 at Orlando Gallery, 18376 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (818) 705-5368.

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