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A Specialist in Confidently Out-of-Whack Geometry

April 05, 2002|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Only 13 months ago, Bart Exposito made his L.A. solo debut with a series of promising paintings that appeared to be the love children of streamlined RVs and old-fashioned TVs. Rendered with the steady hand of a sign painter, these goofy fusions of abstraction and representation also added a touch of Sputnik clunkiness and a slap of skateboarder verve to their hard-edged shapes, whose homey futurism matched that of the Jetsons. At once charming and cheeky, Exposito's crisp images had one foot firmly planted in the world of playful self-effacement and the other in that of big, bold ambitions.

At Daniel Weinberg Gallery, a beautifully installed group of new works on canvas and paper by the 31-year-old artist makes last year's paintings look like 5-year-old computer technology--fine for its time, but unbelievably plodding and crude when compared to the up-to-the-minute stuff that's available today.

It's thrilling to see an artist advance so dramatically. Gone are the gimmicks Exposito had used to disguise his paintings as multi-panel props and 3-D installations. No bet-hedging indecisiveness bogs down his increasingly confident images, which are consummately composed, in both senses of the term.

Pictorially they are organized with an eye toward maximum efficiency. Exposito compresses loads of visual energy into flat, evenly painted pictures, carefully calibrating subtle color shifts and high-keyed accents to intensify their vitality.

Linear elements often echo one another, creating jittery movements and spinning sensations. Although straight lines define the contours of nearly all of the modular shapes in these clean paintings, there's not a right angle to be found.

Out-of-whack geometry is Exposito's specialty. It allows him to push asymmetrical formats and radically skewed setups to such extremes that the results look graceful, amazingly contained despite the loopy idiosyncrasies of their simple, sometimes lumpy components.

The rounded corners of Exposito's multi-sided shapes suggest the user-friendliness of ergonomically designed appliances. They also recall works by Philip Argent, Casey Cook and Stephen Heer, contemporaries who are also making paintings that put some kick back into the phrase "new and improved."

The compositional sophistication of Exposito's art is not merely formal. It is matched by a sense of emotional composure. Intellectual refinement and tasteful restraint are evident in the decisions that determine each piece's scale, palette, structure and rhythm. At once mature and spunky, elegant and fun-loving, Exposito's paintings make a virtue of immediate gratification by making its satisfactions last a lot longer than usual--well into the future.

Daniel Weinberg Gallery, 6148 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (323) 954-8425, through April 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Calame Finds Beauty Where Others See Grunge

The system Ingrid Calame uses to make her paintings has not changed since she began exhibiting in 1994. She still traces stains from the street and sidewalk onto sheets of translucent Mylar, overlaps them to form dense linear patterns and transfers these messy networks to square aluminum panels. The L.A. painter then fills in the actual-size silhouettes with industrial-strength coats of enamel, creating broken rainbows whose jarring color combinations have a noxious beauty that is not for the fainthearted.

What has changed is the look of Calame's art. At Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, a dozen 2-foot-square panels are significantly more pictorial than any of her previous works. In other words, each looks--and behaves--more like a painting than a found object.

The installation highlights this transformation. Beginning in the entryway and ringing the main gallery, the sequence formed by Calame's panels recalls the frames of a comic strip. (Her titles, "V-E-E-Uuww!" "ka-KINK-kun" and "cgup, cgup, cgup, cgup," for example, function onomatopoetically, like the words that punctuate action-packed scenes.) You look at the jampacked paintings in search of a narrative.

But there's no continuity from one to the next. Each concrete abstraction has the presence of a fantastic 3-D map of a universe, in which accidents and intentions intermingle more promiscuously than usual. With no key or guide, you must navigate the dizzying spaces of Calame's paintings by the seat of your pants, making up your own rules as clues accumulate.

The stains Calame has traced are more painstakingly detailed than before. Many have the lacy delicacy and meticulous filigree of elaborate ornamentation. Their edges are more jagged; sharp, saw-toothed shapes predominate, and thin splinters resemble shards of shattered glass. Some seem to be rendered at microscopic scale. The most complicated are represented by dozens of tiny fragments, all painted the same synthetic shade.

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