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Optimism trumps failure

August 29, 2008|David Pagel | Special to The Times

There's not a lot of space for art -- especially sculpture -- at Concrete Walls @ Cafe Back Door. But Rochelle Botello has turned the tight confines to her advantage, creating an installation of mostly doll-size figures, made of duct tape, cardboard and fabric, that is dreamy and down-to-earth sweet, without being sugarcoated, and rough around the edges without being callous or unduly enamored of abjection, suffering and failure.

Empathy, not vengefulness, loads Botello's otherwise forlorn figures with a wide range of emotions. Titled "Wrestle My Tuesday," her tragically optimistic works make intuitive, mind-bending sense.

Five little drawings, in colored pencil and watercolor, and six small sculptures have been hung on the walls and placed in the window. They set the stage for the quirky drama that unfolds overhead.

Botello's drawings have the feel and flavor of Marcel Dzama's homemade cartoons, except that hers are a little less elegant and slightly less pointed in their storytelling. Most feature interactions between two creatures, often depicting moments when the tables turn and things don't go as expected.

Some of Botello's wall sculptures are structured like bookends -- paired things that do their thing by pushing in opposite directions. "Pretty Boy" and "I'll stay here as long as you need me to" capture the vicissitudes of lifelong relationships, when couples form wholes that are stronger and more resilient than either half is on his or her own.

The highlight of the show is the flock of five colorful birds and a trio of guys that Botello has suspended from the high ceiling. It's as if a daydream has taken on a life of its own.

The yellow bird is the only character with anything like superhero powers. A cascade of rhinestones spills from its backside.

The guys are far more ordinary. A boy, dressed in a cape and white underpants, looks less shocked than amused, despite the bird stuck in his mouth. A parachuting teen, whose briefs are being tugged off by a furry critter, appears to be similarly entranced. And a fat man who is stuck in a life preserver and sucking his thumb seems content, not embarrassed.

In the forgiving world inhabited by Botello's dyed-in-the-wool misfits, growing up -- otherwise known as resolving psychoanalytic conflicts -- is less important than wrestling a little pleasure from life's ups and downs.

Concrete Walls @ Cafe Back Door, 5484 Wilshire Blvd., rear, (323) 933-4020, through Oct. 11. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. www.concretewallsgallery .com


Imagery meets abstraction

At Patrick Painter Inc., Sigmar Polke's paintings and photographs show a master in action. The preeminent German artist trots out the tricks of his trade, mixing and matching imagery and abstraction in ways that are flat-out inspiring.

Although paintings and photographs are made with different materials and by very different procedures, Polke treats the often-opposed media as two sides of the same coin. Forget arguments about the superiority of one or the other; his irreverently inventive fusions of hands-off technology and hands-on immediacy use both arts as equally effective tools for communicating with viewers.

The nine large paintings on paper in one gallery (all but two from 1999) look ghostly. From a distance, they appear to be painted on air, with faintly tinted currents and clouds of air. It's as if Polke has somehow managed to suspend his unnatural colors and luminous gestures in the space just in front of each piece's jet-black surface.

Close inspection reveals that he has done nothing of the sort, just deployed extremely thinned-down splashes, washes and drips of translucent color and then enhanced the mixture with swift emissions of spray paint.

In the other gallery, 16 photographs (all but one from the 1980s) fall into three groups. The first consists of blurry pictures of people searching, reaching and struggling to find something solid in their surroundings. Most of these have the look of faded prints from the 19th century, but two include scribbled lines and words, showing Polke's cheeky side.

The second group features unidentifiable light sources -- oddly organic shapes aglow with neon purples, gaseous greens and synthetic blues. In contrast to this group's post-industrial ethereality, the third group is all gritty tactility: similarly unidentifiable blobs of roughly textured nuggets that look malignant and menacing yet oddly comic.

With seemingly effortless ease, Polke coaxes loads of intrigue out of the chemical compounds that oil paintings, silver prints and Cibachromes are made of. Think of him as a contemporary alchemist -- an artist who turns ordinary substances into concrete mysteries.

Patrick Painter Inc., 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through Sept. 6. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.patrick


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