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Realism, with a dose of whimsy

AROUND THE GALLERIES

January 11, 2008|David Pagel | Special to The Times

In a trio of 5-foot-long drawings and the mural-scale centerpiece of the show, "It Is With a Heavy Heart," Farber shrinks his figures, adds schematic faces and multiplies their numbers by the dozens, hundreds or thousands. Ghosts, skeletons, animals and plants share space with the teeming masses, as do crudely outlined internal organs and a seemingly endless list of the various ways people die -- naturally and otherwise.

The idea that individuals are unique, like snowflakes, dissolves in Farber's poignant pictures of life's basic rhythms. His depiction of people -- as parts of species and cycles larger than anyone -- is heartening, sensible and oddly generous in its embrace of humanity's common links.

Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-9191, through Feb. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.richardheller gallery.com

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Getting lost in a world of nuances

At first glance, Virginia Katz's mixed-media works on paper resemble satellite images of the Earth's surface. Tiny lines, complex shapes and organic colors seem to describe mountains, valleys and plains as well as rivers, lakes and oceans. The details are so exquisite and convincing that it's tempting to stand back and try to determine what part of the world is being depicted: The Baja coast? A Mesopotamian waterway? The Russian tundra? A Guatemalan jungle?

But too many loose ends -- or befuddling inconsistencies -- prevent you from matching any of Katz's 20 abstract images at the Jancar Gallery with a specific location. As you move in closer to the 22-by-30-inch works, it's clear that they are nonrepresentational. You get lost in a world thick with visual incidents yet unlike anything you have seen.

Katz's exceptionally nuanced works are monoprints she makes by crinkling up sheets of kitchen foil, dripping on colored inks and then running the shallow reliefs through a press, which leaves an imprint on a sheet of paper. After letting it dry, Katz draws with pencils, adds watercolor washes and gouache accents and then tops off the controlled chaos by dusting it with dry pigments.

The results have the intimacy of handmade artifacts and the unself-consciousness of serendipitous accidents. It's a felicitous fusion of taking control and letting go.

The surfaces of Katz's works have nothing in common with the slickness of digital imagery. Most impressive, her modestly scaled pieces are expansive. Each seems to bring more space into the room than its literal dimensions suggest. And each is so packed with scrappy happenstance and indescribable detail that no matter how long you look there's always more to see.

Katz makes mountains of molehills with eye-popping originality.

Jancar Gallery, 3875 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1308, (213) 384-8077, through Feb. 9. Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. www.jancargallery.com

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Packed with colors and textures

In its heyday nearly 50 years ago, formalism took painting back to the basics: line, shape and color. At Western Project, Oliver Arms' oils on canvas go a whole lot further. They take painting back to basic states of matter: liquid, solid and gas.

Think of the L.A. artist's second solo show as an eloquent essay on the most elemental aspects of the organic materiality of oil paint. Simultaneously fluid, crusty and ethereal, his primal pictures have one foot firmly planted in the primordial ooze and the other in the cultivated world of modernist abstraction. It's a feat that balances furious energy and strange serenity.

Each of Arms' five abstractions is jampacked with so many colors, textures and forms that it looks like 10 or 12 paintings that have been run through an industrial-strength garbage disposal, compressed in a hydraulic trash compactor and then run over by an old-fashioned steamroller. Arms actually works with brushes and palette knives, piling on paint thickly and intuitively, letting it dry, obliterating many layers with a belt sander and then repeating the process, again and again.

Density is his forte. Yet none of Arms' riveting works seems overcrowded or claustrophobic. Part of that is due to the astonishing crispness of every square inch of his sediment-style surfaces, which are so vivid and sharply defined that they almost hurt your eyes.

Even more important is the light Arms captures in his brutally worked fields of fragmented gestures and broken marks. The laborious, even torturous process that goes into the construction of his works disappears in the palpable light that emanates from their fiery depths. Neither heavenly nor hellish, it's down to earth and gritty, the basic stuff of life.

Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through Feb. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.western-project.com

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