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Uncluttered Works Lay Bare the Essential Themes of Life

March 02, 2001|HOLLY MYERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The lucid and soulful work of Spanish artist Alfredo Garcia Revuelta is likely to remind you of just how much disingenuous clutter you see in most galleries today. His paintings and wood sculptures have the simplicity and profundity of proverbs. They are plain-spoken without being shallow, minimal without being vacuous, humorous without deflecting meaning and clever without sinking too comfortably into their own cleverness.

Just as the best breads contain the very simplest ingredients--flour, water, salt and yeast--Garcia Revuelta's work concentrates on basic but essential themes: birth, death, the body, the home, landscape, gender and food. His materials are earthy, his figures thick and organic, and his compositions uncluttered.

Each work articulates a single symbolic or archetypal concept. In some pieces this articulation is humorous--as in one painting of a pair of high-heeled shoes that have sandwiches for soles. In others it is touching, even ominous.

One of the most moving works is a wood bust of a man looking heavenward with the sad, searching eyes of a saint, while three tiny tractors plow wrinkles into the flesh of his face. The piece is poignantly titled "El paso del tiempo" (The Pass of Time) (1995).

The current exhibition at Iturralde Gallery--Garcia Revuelta's West Coast debut--is happily large, with 18 works in all. The paintings are strong in themselves, with bold figuration and rich color, but it is the sculptures that steal the show.

With the exception of "El paso del tiempo," they are life-size, free-standing figures that resemble pre-Hellenistic Greek sculpture in their tight postures, stiff fleshiness and round, otherworldly eyes. All but two of the figures have a hollow in some part of their bodies, in which Garcia Revuelta has created a tiny diorama--the poetic soul of the figure.

One male figure titled "Hombre edificio" (Man Building) (1996) is painted to resemble a brick wall. Through a window in his chest, the viewer can see a fully furnished living room, complete with abstract art on the walls and flowers on the table.

A female figure is painted to resemble the geological layers of the Earth. In her chest, one finds rivers, a lake and a mountain range.

Perhaps the most gripping of the works is a clothed male figure with his head slightly bowed. A small hole in the top of his head reveals the view from the top of a skyscraper, which descends into the pit of his chest. The piece is titled "Suicida" (Suicide) (1997-98).

Emotionally powerful and refreshingly free of irony, Garcia Revuelta's work reminds the viewer of the basics, the essential matter of life. In a tremendously cluttered world, the reminder is a welcome one.

* Iturralde Gallery, 116 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 937-4267, through Mar. 31. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

*

Freedom From Cool: Of all the illustrious adjectives available to describe a work of art today, "earnest" is not among the most glamorous.

Any self-respecting contemporary artist would be proud to be called provocative, cool, angry, playful, ironic, cynical, sexy, hip, dynamic, violent or edgy, but "earnest" implies a degree of sincerity that might be considered a liability in our stylish urban world. It calls to mind agrarian landscape paintings at an Iowa state fair, or hand-painted greeting cards sold in a seaside tourist town.

An exuberant group show on view at Occidental College, organized by independent critic Michael Duncan and appropriately titled "The Importance of Being Earnest," after the Oscar Wilde play, reclaims the unfashionable term with shameless sincerity. The show brings together a group of 30 mostly outstanding contemporary artists, whose work is said to "sidestep the strictures of postmodernism and deal openly with such art world taboos as spirituality, commitment, celebratory decoration and psychological confession."

Many of these are familiar artists--such as Lari Pittman, Bruce Connor and Llyn Foulkes--whose work is rejuvenated by the relaxed context of the small, crowded galleries. Others are less familiar and bring a vitality to the show that provides a pleasant balance. All embrace their freedom from what Duncan calls "the aesthetics of cool," filling the galleries with an invigorating camaraderie.

Particularly notable among the works is Tom Knechtel's "Tinglado (A Ghost Story)" (1997), a gorgeous and somewhat Pittmanesque hurricane of bizarre and delicate detail; Laura Lasworth's "(Miss Mystery and Manners) Portrait of Flannery O'Connor" (1997), a misty pink dreamscape that enthrones O'Connor within a haunting symbolic landscape; and Nancy Jackson's "Courtyard with Canopy" (2000), an angelic diorama engulfed in delightfully girlish materials like beads, pearls, mirrors and shells.

This last work is a wonderful piece of fantasy that captures the essence of this quirky but eminently enjoyable show: an earnest belief in the simple wonder of creation.

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