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Dramatic in any language

April 08, 2005|David Pagel | Special to The Times

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 933-2117, through May 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Crafting scraps

of wood into trees

Jared Pankin transforms scraps of wood into landscape sculptures that rise from the floor, sprawl across the wall and reach out into the room -- like the limbs of recycled cyborgs. At Carl Berg Gallery, each of these six abstract forms functions as a gigantic pedestal for at least one realistic tree: a palm, redwood or row of elms.

Although Pankin's handcrafted trees have their roots in dioramas found in natural history museums or the basements of model train enthusiasts, they do not belong to worlds in which everything is the same scale, the illusionism is seamless and Realism rules. Instead, his trees inhabit worlds riddled with the same contradictions that make modern life so maddening and fascinating.

No single set of rules governs any work's appearance. The most dramatic contrast takes place between the hundreds of pieces of scrap lumber (which have been nailed and screwed together with haphazard abandon) and the trees (which have been carefully molded, glued and weathered with great fidelity to detail).

Some trees stretch the imagination. The pencil-thin trunk of the super-realistic date palm in "Natural, Natural History (Lucifer's Left Nut)" rises to impossible heights, towering 5 feet above a gravity-defying peninsula of wood that resembles a rocky outcropping. The two sequoias in "Natural, Natural History (Devil's Grotto)" and "Natural, Natural History (Beelzebub's Boney Boney Backbone)" flaunt the laws of nature to follow those of one-point perspective, receding into the distance too fast for the eye to follow without dizziness.

In all, the abundance of scrap wood dwarfs the masterfully fabricated trees, whose tenuous positions are made more precarious by the overlapping slabs of splintered wood that form visual logjams. The leftover lumber suggests a denatured wasteland.

Pankin's landscapes filter the art of assemblage through the virtual world of digital technology, where pixels, bytes and windows allow myriad perspectives to be grafted together until it's impossible to distinguish parts from wholes, fact from fiction.

Carl Berg Gallery, 6018 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 931-6060, through April 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.carlberg


Dense, fiery and downright strange

The five big paintings that make up Oliver Arms' L.A. solo debut are so steeped in history that it's difficult, when looking at them, not to envision works by other painters, including William Baziotes, Andre Bresson, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Roberto Matta, Robert Motherwell and Clyfford Still. Usually, nodding so obviously to past masterpieces is a recipe for disaster. It almost always ensures that the new works are forgettable footnotes to famous paintings reproduced in nearly every textbook about 20th century abstraction.

But there's more to Arms' dense, fiery paintings at Western Project than these standard points of reference suggest. The longer you look, the stranger they seem.

Each consists of molten blobs of color hurtling through a cosmos congested with the residue of furious collisions between asteroids, meteors and unidentifiable intergalactic detritus. Some blobs seem to cavort, like silhouetted cartoon characters, across 6-by-12-foot picture planes. Others resemble humongous insects splattered across a spaceship's windshield. Still others look like gaseous masses exploding ferociously.

From close up, the surfaces of the blobs are as complex and delicate as Impressionist paintings.

They consist of wispy swirls of red, blue and yellow, intermingled with green, orange and purple. To get the atmospheric effect, Arms uses a belt sander, literally obliterating layers of encrusted oil paint.

The sanded sections look dry. This contrasts dramatically with the thickly brushed grounds, which look wet and far more expressive or gestural.

An odd, Rip Van Winkle quality animates Arms' art. Out of step with current fashions, his naked paintings travel to the past in ways that may be ahead of their time.

Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through April 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www

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