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Straight to the heart of the style

July 03, 2009|David Pagel

Ruby Neri's painted clay figures and big, blazing paintings take visitors back to the heyday of German Expressionism. In the first decades of the 20th century, artists such as Franz Marc, Emil Nolde and Paula Modersohn Becker sought the crude truth in deliberately inelegant works that embraced childlike innocence, primitive vigor and the naked basics of life: pleasure and pain, love and death, food and sex.

But unlike all too many second-, third- and fourth-generation Expressionists, Neri does not use the ham-fisted simplicity of first-generation Expressionism as an excuse to work swiftly, freely and easily with the unselfconsciousness of an unschooled naif following her unsullied intuitions.

Instead, the 39-year-old artist gets past the superficial attractions of the often-imitated style by getting to its heart. The underlying structure of clashing colors and simple shapes controls its emotionalism. Her dazzling yet strangely subdued works marry the discipline of Formalism to the boldness of Expressionism, making for a union that is original and moving -- of the moment, and out of this world.

At the David Kordansky Gallery, Neri's breakout exhibition features three bodies of work. Any one would make for a strong solo show.

First, four 6-by-5-foot paintings line the rear wall. Depicting figures kissing, riding horses, strolling under the stars and cavorting amid flowers, they create an awesome backdrop for the small and midsize sculptures that fill the main space with a riot of shiny reds, blues and yellows, set off by a rainbow of luxurious purples, screeching oranges, vibrating greens and lipstick pinks.

Next, on a row of 11 pedestals along the left wall, 11 stoneware pieces portray a sympathetic group of oddly endearing misfits. The size of tall vases or generous cookie jars, Neri's weirdly captivating fusions of faces and vessels convey a wide range of demeanors, attitudes and personalities, whether grizzled fatigue or grumpy world-weariness; formidable determination or curiosity-crossed shyness; and dopey indecisiveness or profound self-doubt. Each of her potent visages is covered with an untraditional combination of glazes and paints, including oil, enamel, acrylic, tempera and ink.

Finally, eight larger sculptures, resting on low pedestals, are scattered around the middle of the gallery. Made of plaster slathered with oil paint, these pieces feature a single nude figure picking monstrous flowers, or pairs and groups of mostly nude figures walking, talking, lolling or standing stoically, like the guardians of ancient tombs or unspoken secrets.

The profound sense of patience they exude complements their vibrant, eye-grabbing colors. This gives them the depth and the resonance that provide long-lasting satisfactions.

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David Kordansky Gallery, 3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., through Aug. 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 558-3030, www.davidkordansky gallery.com.

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'Thunk' delivers some artful funk

The five-artist exhibition "Thunk" at the Khastoo Gallery plays dumb with just the right touch of intelligence, bringing big ideas down to earth. Imagine the sound of a 26-volume encyclopedia hitting the ground after being tossed from the top of an ivory tower and you'll get a feel for what this fun, free-form show is up to.

Just inside the front door, James Hyde's "Big Beanbag" sets the intellect on a crash course with reality. The swollen blob of a sculpture, with a diameter of roughly 6 feet, resembles an oversize beanbag chair or a beach ball gone wrong. Made of linen and inflatable packaging material, Hyde's lumpen abstraction is also a 3-D painting, its surface covered with untidy swipes of acrylic in an organic palette of overripe vegetables and creamy pastels. Hyde makes the misbegotten melange look unlovely yet sumptuous, a deflated ideal with its own funky spirit.

Jimmy Raskin's "The [Documentarian's] Return of the Drunken Boat" -- a cavalier stack of plywood, Styrofoam and cement festooned with party decorations, fake seashells and glittery streamers -- has the presence of a scarecrow made by a farmer who dreams of being a big-city set decorator. Its charms are barbed.

A pair of Rob Reynolds' small, rainbow-shaped paintings in arcs of Ad Reinhardt black and disco-ball silver, counteracts the piecemeal funkiness with a sense of urbane restraint. His nearly 8-foot-square oil on canvas, "Untitled (Shadow #1)," gracefully glides from dark blue to even darker blue, showing how much can be done with very few elements.

Alex Olson does something similar in his delicious little paintings. The scribbled shapes in "Cleo" and "Correspondent" come off as being casual yet careful.

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