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In a midcentury frame of mind

November 13, 2003|Adamo DiGregorio and David A. Keeps | Special to The Times

If Andy Warhol's visions of Campbell's soup cans blurred the line between commercial and fine art, the latest trend in collecting erases that line completely. Instead of rendering a product into an important (and costly) canvas, as Warhol did, art lovers are flipping the formula, seeking out the original drawings and paintings that were mass-produced as midcentury product illustrations.

A new generation of homeowners has embraced the iconic power of architectural renderings. The artist's-proof serigraphs of 1960s illustrator Carlos Diniz at Silver Lake's Ten 10 Gallery, (323) 663-3603, are pure design, reducing buildings and furniture to clean geometry and foliage to fanciful filigrees, the perfect partners for Asian or Danish decor.

Similarly, gouache-on-paper designs for fabrics, such as those done in the mid-20th century by Arthur Litt and handsomely framed by Double Vision in Venice, (310) 314-2679, have the boldness of Latin American abstract art at a fraction of the price.

Regular visitors to the Modernism exhibitions in Glendale, Santa Monica and Palm Springs seek out Streamline Illustrations, (530) 432-5831, for Buck Rogers-styled concept car portraits suitable for 21st century bachelor pads.

Looking for something narrative? Nothing is quite as satisfying as Streamline's noir-ish paintings for pulp paperbacks, visions that hark back to a Los Angeles of square-jawed Joes and juke-joint Jezebels. Once derided as lurid, these accomplished if exaggerated figure studies bristle with pure pigments and impure, unbridled passions. Some even have a small degree of provenance, marked with printer's specs or accompanied by a copy of the dime novel they illustrated.

At Breen & Graham, (323) 663-3426, there are works with a true Hollywood heritage. As epic as any Italian canvas, John DeCuir's scenic designs for the 1963 film "Cleopatra" won the art director an Academy Award.

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