The houses in Kevin Appel's six new paintings at Angles Gallery are the domestic equivalent of ghost ships: phantom apparitions whose mysterious beauty is shot through with enough menace to make your spine tingle. Combining equal measures of dreamy intangibility and raw anxiety, these wall-size pictures bring the perceptual refinement of classic Light and Space works into contact with the queasy realism of art inspired by film noir.
It's a volatile combination. At once seductive and chilling, atmospheric and claustrophobic, Appel's haunting paintings lure viewers into a world where every dream is caught in a nightmarish undertow.
All of his images depict solitary buildings, either a modest cabin made of plywood or a more elaborate dwelling made of concrete and beams. All are set in the woods. And all are empty.
Some resemble stylish summer homes. Others have more in common with the Unabomber's cabin. Devoid of furniture, all appear to have been abandoned while still under construction, just after their frameworks were built, but before any plumbing, electricity or other finishing touches were added.
They embody an extreme and peculiar type of stillness. Unlike the quietness that's conducive to relaxation, the silence that thunders through Appel's paintings recalls those moments when things are too quiet, when you know in your bones (and at the base of your brain) that something bad is about to happen. Time seems to stand still.
Appel intensifies this anxiety by limiting his palette to white. Traditionally, white signifies purity. But it's also a sign of surrender--of yielding to a superior force or suspending a battle to face one's enemies peaceably, if momentarily.
At first the paintings appear to be too antiseptic to be emotionally engaging. But after a while, their subtle color distinctions get more vivid. Although it's easy to lose count, it seems that they include about 40 different shades, from feathery grays to warm creamy tones. A rich range of variations recalls views through green-tinted sunglasses or icy blue plate-glass windows. One of the best things about Appel's art is that it treats white as a color, a physical entity too complex and sensuous to be exhausted by the words we have for it.
Another is his masterful command of surface texture. Slathering on paint with spatulas and sculpting individual wood grain with a knife, Appel pays homage to plasterers and carpenters, working people whose knowledge (and love) of a job well done is an end in itself.
Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through June 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Finding Power in
In eight large paintings and 23 small drawings at L.A. Louver Gallery, Guillermo Kuitca uses found imagery to meditate on various forms of loss. Ranging from the inconvenience of lost luggage to the sadness of lost innocence, and from the regrets of a lost weekend to the tragedy of lost loved ones, his diagrammatic pictures cover an impressive variety of subjects.
In a sense, the Buenos Aires artist's second solo show in Los Angeles is an encyclopedia of melancholy. The core of his exhibition consists of four black-and-white acrylics on canvas that depict enlarged versions of palace floor plans and ceiling patterns illustrated in Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert's 28-volume "Encyclopedie." The two 18th century Frenchmen attempted to summarize all knowledge in their magnum opus, which was out of date by the time it was published.
Kuitca has faithfully reproduced illustrations from their ill-fated effort, which includes such architectural details as decorative marble floors, grand staircases and theatrically framed spaces for paintings. Before these images have dried, he has poured water over them, dissolving their crisp lines into blurry messes. The breakdown of the orderly precision and rational clarity is a metaphor for the transience of cultural achievements--and ordinary forgetfulness.
In his drawings, he treats diagrams of modern buildings similarly. Visiting various Web sites, Kuitca has printed out the seating charts of Staples Center, Dodger Stadium, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Hollywood Bowl. He has also splashed a turpentine-like solution on the color-coded charts, dissolving solid blocks of color and sharp lines into hallucinatory blurs and scattered fragments.
A few of these images are pretty. Their flowing forms suggest music drifting through a venue. Most, however, are beautiful--and violent. They evoke explosions--sudden, earsplitting eruptions that destroy entire sections while leaving others untouched. People in the cheap seats are no safer than those up front.
The randomness of the destruction is what gives Kuitca's works their power. His pictures of places where crowds gather invite contemplation about the relationship between individuals and groups, happenstance and fate, anonymity and fame, responsibility and blamelessness.