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With an eye on the news

November 21, 2008|David Pagel | Pagel is a freelance writer.

Some parts of some paintings are sculpted, built into three dimensions so that they have the tactility of the real thing. Other parts appear to have been applied with the fastidiousness of hobbyists who fill in every abstract shape of a paint-by-numbers set as if their lives depended on it. And still others have the hokey charm of outsider art, a sort of ham-fisted Pointillism that marries the unself-conscious earnestness of children's drawings with the savvy verve of avant-garde innovation.

All these elements pale in comparison to the way Case makes light spill from his paintings. From the ghostly glow of a black-and-white television to the cool blue illumination of hundreds of cellphones held up at a concert, he makes light come alive.

Whether its yellow dazzle shines from megawatt spotlights, seeps from a battery-powered lantern or bathes all of Los Angeles in the crystalline clarity of autumn mornings, light provides the magic that makes Case's paintings dance in your imagination. The landscapes they illuminate are at once intimate and ordinary, part of the world we all live in yet wonderfully out of step with its relentless rhythm and unforgiving tempo.

Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through Dec. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Sculptures with a grunge formalism

Ten years ago, formalism and grunge seemed to be opposites. The first smacked of academic fussiness -- out-of-touch snobbery for folks who wanted art to shore up its barriers against everything else out there. The latter threw its lot in with the rough-and-tumble adaptations of fly-by-night DIY-ers who embraced chaos, or at least its appearance.

Krysten Cunningham's new sculptures suggest that grunge formalism has become a style all its own: a movement with definite parameters and plenty of room to move freely within them. At the Thomas Solomon Gallery @ Cottage Home, her abstract work combines an anything-goes approach to materials with an incisive scrutiny of line, shape and color in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.

Cunningham typically combines spindly armatures made of wooden dowels, metal rods, bronze discs or the rims of bicycle wheels with strands of yarn, wool, nylon and jute. She strings these materials around the arms and legs of her skeletal structures to form seemingly simple but devilishly complex puzzles for the mind's eye.

Some, like "Chalk, Lily, Milk," "Ambassador" and "Bride's Cross," resemble summer camp crafts made by a precocious candidate for a doctorate in geometry.

"The Third Policeman" resembles an emaciated spirit-catcher undergoing mitosis. And two tabletop bronzes, with mismatched grids drawn in oil and pen across their flat surfaces, evoke out-of-step origami, their weightiness at odds with their slightness.

All of Cunningham's sculptures change in appearance and meaning as you walk around them. With very few ingredients, they make you wonder about peculiarly precise perceptions and the clever, often coy things a self-conscious artist can do with them.

In this, Cunningham joins Jessica Stockholder, Liz Larner, Pae White, Jason Meadows, Evan Holloway, Jim Richards, Lecia Dole-Recio and Olivia Booth. All make a funky, sometimes fecund mixture of shabby stuff and formal rigor.

Thomas Solomon Gallery @ Cottage Home, 410 Cottage Home St., L.A., (310) 428-2964, through Dec. 20. Closed Sundays to Tuesdays.


L.A. artist proves an able colorist

It's hard to imagine a painting that makes the bold, eye-grabbing punch of Op Art look tentative. But that's exactly what Linda Besemer's new works do.

At the Angles Gallery, her 11 abstract paintings crank up the visual dynamics of Bridget Riley's crisp graphics and the buzzing colors of Julian Stanczak's undulating grids in wall-size works of mind-blowing potency. But instead of causing your optic nerves to go into spasms, the dazzling pieces hit you in the solar plexus. The initial visual wallop is stunning. And it's just the beginning.

The L.A. artist also shows herself to be a consummate colorist, her hard-edged bands of bright primary, secondary and tertiary colors so gently and deliberately playing off one another that they soften the laser-sharp lines and wildly warped grids of her otherwise abrupt compositions. Harshness gives way to subtlety and suppleness, creating embracing spaces you can get lost in without losing your way.

Besemer paints the same way she has for the last 12 years, laying a skin-like layer of acrylic on a gigantic sheet of glass and then using pin-striper's tape to add hundreds, sometimes thousands, of lines. She then peels off the thick layer of acrylic before hanging it, like a bath towel, over a metal rod or affixing it to a panel or directly to the wall.

In the old days, her lines were all ruler-straight -- vertical, horizontal and diagonal. Not so long ago, she added curved lines whose widths shifted to suggest space.

Now she throws sine waves into the mix, crisscrossing the undulating lines and bending them back into space as if each described the path of a soccer ball with so much spin on it that no one could stop it. The result is an operatic extravaganza that has as much to do with the madcap physicality of Baroque painting, sculpture and architecture as it does with the two-dimensionality of Op designs and the flexibility of computer graphics.

In Besemer's hands, paint does not sit around like a wallflower: It leaps into your face and into your space, where it makes your eyes and heart race.

Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through Dec. 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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