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Family, friends, other 'Intimates'

August 29, 2003|David Pagel | Special to The Times

An endearing group exhibition at Angles Gallery updates Warhol's famously misinterpreted statement that Pop art is about liking things. The 16-artist show is about liking people -- and a couple of pets. Titled "Intimates," it features portraits of loved ones painted, photographed, drawn and collaged by a quirky assortment of artists.

Dads and moms, girlfriends and grandkids, sons and lovers, spouses and hounds are depicted in a wide range of styles, scales and formats. Their diversity hints at the complex emotions that accompany affection in all its variety.

Most of the works are fairly straightforward portraits. John Sonsini's 5-by-4-foot oil on canvas may not be the largest, but it packs the most punch. In this lushly brushed image, the painter's longtime companion, Gabriel, slumps in a chair, his slouched shoulders, bowed head, relaxed limbs and slack expression only accentuating the vigor of his meaty body.

Edgar Bryan's painting of his girlfriend (now wife), Laura Owens, is a love poem to those little things one member of a couple does for the other, such as treating otherwise annoying habits as fond little rituals. Judie Bamber's watercolors of her father as a young man are time capsules filled with bittersweet emotions.

Made up of 11 rapid-fire snapshots that David Hockney has overlapped and juxtaposed in his inimitable fashion, "Gregory Loading His Camera" serves up the deliciously superficial pleasures of watching a loved one lose himself in a simple task. Harry Callahan's silver prints of his wife, Eleanor, are testaments to the ways time deepens love.

All of these pictures begin with an artist's strong feelings for someone else. But they don't end there. You don't need to know the stories behind them to be drawn into their dramas. The devotion and attentiveness with which they were made makes you feel as if the sentiments they express are essentially no different from your own. To look closely is to be on intimate terms with these works.

A diptych by Kim Dingle captures the open-ended promiscuity at the heart of the show. On the right is a framed enlargement of a page from the "For Sale" section of a weekly publication. Dingle has circled a two-line ad that reads: "Living Room Picture, valuable frame, gold, lady lying down on sofa, a little exposed, $50." Rather than calling the number to see the piece, Dingle painted her own version.

It hangs on the left and shows her mother, resting on a yellow sofa, eyes closed and a bit of her midriff visible between plain green top and brown slacks. About as titillating as a dust mop, Dingle's painting is a picture of domestic tranquillity stripped of overblown sentiment.

Linda Stark's little white painting looks like a symmetrical abstraction, until you learn that it's titled "Portrait of Harry." Suddenly it appears to be a cartoon-inspired rendition of the strands of hair that fell over her poodle's eyes, making him look as dapper as a well-dressed gentleman.

In a six-part watercolor, Dave Muller uses his beat-up old Volvo as a stand-in for himself. Parked in a near-empty lot, it noses up to a forest green sedan. A string of balloons and an unbelievably blue sky suggest that romance is in the air.

Two other artists more directly put themselves in the picture. A pair of silver prints by Imogen Cunningham show her and two granddaughters goofing around in a house of mirrors. And Monica Majoli's five-sided panel depicts her having sex with a girlfriend. In the background are a full-length mirror and three other paintings.

From hot sex to grandmotherly affection, and from fond memories of parents to recollections of dearly departed pets, this open-minded exhibition suggests that if you're looking for love, you should look to art. They go hand in glove.

Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through Sept. 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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All the answers, too few questions

In a world overrun with cheap products and slapdash workmanship, it seems wrongheaded to criticize artists for competence and professionalism. But if these qualities are the best their work offers, keeping one's mouth shut amounts to complicity in a sorry state of affairs.

At Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Gallery, two super-sized works are too tidily disheveled and appropriately all over the place to leave enough to the imagination. They're also too handsomely crafted and obvious in their references to historical precedents to belie the suspicion that the artists who made them are driven more by career ambitions than their own loopy visions.

Primitivo Suarez's "Open House" lies flat on the gallery floor. Made of wood, red clapboard siding and asphalt shingles, it's a toolshed-sized house laid out like a one-piece paper cutout. It recalls printed models kids make by following such directions as "Fold along dotted line" and "Insert Tab A into Slot B." In the gallery, you're invited to build the house in your mind's eye.

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