Most of the works are life-sized drawings on brown butcher paper, each depicting a single black figure presented in the manner of an everyday superhero, with popular, traditional and sci-fi accouterments wound so closely together as to be virtually indistinguishable.
"East Texas Marvel," for instance, shows a woman in a block print cape with a '60s-era mini-dress and go-go boots.
Another drawing, "Rage Against the Machine," portrays a woman in what could be 19th century garb, contemporary tennis shoes peeking out beneath her skirts, calmly wielding a sledgehammer.
For all Pruitt's play with signs and symbols, the strength of the work is actually its subtlety. This is sign-play driven not by the anxiety of Postmodernism, as similar work might have been a decade ago, but by the hybridizing instincts of hip-hop culture, which gives these drawings room to be not only racial critiques but also sincere and stately portraits whose presence in the gallery is a force in itself.
Mary Goldman Gallery, 932 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, (213) 617-8217, through April 19. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.marygold man.com.
Immersed in an artist's vision
In "Rally," Cynthia Ona Innis' second solo show at the Walter Maciel Gallery, the Oakland-based painter continues her exploration of a lush imaginative landscape with ever subtler and more exquisite results. These are paintings one doesn't look at so much as immerse oneself in, following the artist's lead through their exotic atmosphere.
The forms suggest biological sources -- aquatic vistas or the microscopic realm of the human body -- but the comparisons are provisional: This is a world generated by the artist's absolute absorption in her materials, the drama deriving purely from pictorial circumstances.
Mesh pods hover languidly, swaying in currents of blue, lavender and pink, or else shoot across the canvas with predatory propulsion, trailing clouds of black, rust red or brown, while lozenge-shaped fragments of cut fabric (largely satin and fake fur) gather in loose clouds. The pigment is thin and watery in some places, saturating the ground (whether canvas or stretched satin) and blurring sensually into other shades.
Elsewhere, it falls in gauzy and translucent veils or floats on the surface in distinct strokes and lines.
Also included in the show are about half a dozen sculptures involving tight clusters of stuffed satin pods wound with ribbons, cords, rubber bands and other willowy materials.
These works are a natural departure and not without promise, but the objects themselves lag conspicuously behind the paintings, which reached this point of subtlety and sophistication, it's clear, only after many years of dedicated inquiry.
Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 839-1840, through May 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.waltermacielgallery .com.-- Historical objects made modern
Aaron Smith established himself a little over a decade ago with a lush, brooding, highly virtuosic brand of realism reminiscent of 17th century religious painting, casting contemporary figures in enigmatic saint-like roles in shadowy allegorical landscapes. The paintings were luxuriantly glossy and seductive, built from the smooth application of countless layers.
He's made a radical shift in recent years, judging from "Estofada," his third solo show at Koplin del Rio. Indeed, he's more or less flipped the equation, trading contemporary figures in historical guise for historical artifacts -- sculptures and decorative objects from the Gothic and Baroque periods -- rendered in a contemporary (or at least modern) manner. He removes his subjects from any context and floats them at odd angles across the compositions, leaving wide swaths of negative space. The tones in this case are cool and airy, the pigment thick and full-bodied, almost chunky.
It's a gutsy move, and all the more admirable because it doesn't always work. Several figures have an awkward, twisted look, as if Smith couldn't get the dimensions down, and some compositions feel stilted and self-conscious, or hastily concocted and unfinished.
When they do spark, however, the results are quite gratifying: a nude cherub on a pedestal suspended against a field of gray; a glass case filled with stray decorative objects, the light transforming the space into a delicious melange of white, lavender and pale blue.
The accomplishment of the earlier work leaves one with little doubt of Smith's potential for success in this vein, once he gets the kinks worked out.
Koplin del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through April 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.koplindelrio.com.