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AROUND THE GALLERIES

Brian Bress tells a story slowly and well

September 25, 2009|David Pagel

Not all that long before the Internet made instantaneous communication a regular part of everyday life, people seemed to be a little less rushed and a little more patient. Stories unfolded a little more slowly, sometimes meandering all over the place before getting to the point, if they even had one.

Brian Bress takes visitors back to those glorious moments of storytelling -- to a time when communication was not cut-to-the-chase message-mongering and the texture, tone and tempo of whatever was being conveyed mattered as much as what was said, written or, more commonly, typed.

At Cherry and Martin, Bress' second solo show in Los Angeles begins by creating a dreamy, down-to-earth atmosphere: a scrappy, do-it-yourself fantasy world that traffics in enchantment and generosity rather than in the over-dramatized self-satisfaction so prevalent on the Internet.

Visitors enter an extremely dark gallery in which a video is projected on a wall. The same actor, Bress, plays all the main roles, which include an astronaut, a boxer, a coal miner, a variety show host and a puppet. Several dancers, dressed in fabulous camouflage costumes, back him up, bounding around like human wind-chimes against an abstract landscape that resembles a souped-up version of Cubist collage.

The story is circular, so it doesn't much matter when you walk in. Bress' video intrigues from the get-go, exciting the imagination and drawing you into the lolling, singsong rhythms of its scenes.

Its costumes and props are homemade, not much more sophisticated or expensive than those crafted by third-graders for a school play. The dialogue is earnest, pedestrian, no-nonsense. And the acting is unpolished, not as slick or aggressively stripped bare as many tell-alls on the Internet, but warmer and more endearing, like home movies from the 1970s, before digitization made editing and reshooting so easy.

Think Pee Wee Herman meets Paul McCarthy. That gets at the fresh-eyed innocence and wondrous delight of Bress' 19-minute video, titled "Status Report," as well as its firsthand knowledge of life's dark side, society's ugly underbelly and the very real possibility that, even on good days, things can go very wrong.

Bress' pointedly loopy story interweaves seemingly unrelated vignettes to describe the ways curiosity and knowledge pull and tug against each other.

And that's just the first gallery.

In the second are props, drawings and spinoffs from "Status Report." The best are three fantastically detailed inkjet prints and a primitive mask collage. All capture the quirky vivacity of the video.

On a small, wall-mounted monitor, a second video plays, its audio available via headphones. Titled "It's Been a Long Day," the two-minute quickie has a lovely light touch that efficiently generates a sense of doom. It's as smart as "Status Report" and far more ominous. Its silliness intensifies its effect.

Both of Bress' videos stick in your craw long after you leave. He shows himself to be an artist worth watching, a storyteller whose evocative works cannot be summed up quickly but are best when allowed to simmer slowly in the mind's eye.

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Cherry and Martin, 2712 La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0100, through Oct. 24. Closed Sundays and Monday. www.cherry andmartin.com.

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Making sense of being the misfit

I don't know why tourists like to have their pictures taken with their faces peeking through oval holes cut in plywood sheets painted to resemble cartoon characters or local legends. It must have something to do with being in a new place, not fitting in and feeling both uncomfortable and amused by it all.

At Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Dusseldorf-born, Antwerp-based painter Kati Heck turns the pedestrian experience of being a misfit into a powerful meditation on what it is like to live in a world out of sync with itself. Her six mural-scale paintings and two loaded drawings give stunning form to a harrowing place that's not all that different from everyday life, except for the compression and clarity of their vision.

In terms of drama, nothing much happens in Heck's paintings. The largest, "Rudi's Angebot," recalls Manet's "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe." It depicts three life-size figures lolling about in nondescript grayness as an Edvard Munch-style goblin steps, Keep-on-Truckin'-style, out from unpainted nothingness.

"Die Raucher" evokes the ghost of George Grosz and shows two men taking a cigarette break. "Der Kugelfrab" features a pair of nude models posing for a life-drawing class. And "Die Fratzenpleite" displays a fleshy old woman leaning or falling backward as a huge cartoon tear spills from her eye.

Heck transforms the formulaic deadness of old-fashioned Socialist Realism into a sort of skeptical humanism that is by turns biting and touching, scary and embarrassing, clinical and sensuous.

Her mixture of realistic illusionism, point-blank abstraction and goofy cartoons recalls the cheeky Postmodernism of David Salle and Eric Fischl.

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