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Review: Brad Spence looks back, abstractly, at the 1980s

March 05, 2013|By Holly Myers
  • Brad Spence, "Painted Lady, " 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 5' x 4'
Brad Spence, "Painted Lady, " 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 5'… (Shoshana Wayne Gallery )

Those who’ve come to know Brad Spence through the soft, visually hazy airbrush paintings he’s made in recent years — scenes viewed as if through a foggy window pane or the chemical haze of an aging negative — are in for a surprise with his newest exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

The 23 5- by 4-foot canvases that line the perimeter of the spacious gallery all but rattle with the fervor of experimentation and the prodding — sometimes playful, sometimes agitated — of personal boundaries.

The airbrush remains though the imagery has gone, replaced by a loose play of pattern and stylized iconography, mostly abstract. The muted palette has given way to a joyously garish ensemble of gray, black and fluorescent pink, intended to evoke an impression of girlhood circa 1985. (The show’s two epigraphs come from Billy Idol and from Jeffrey Eugenides’ "Virgin Suicides.")

Viewed in the aggregate, as they were clearly intended to be, the canvases function like an extended film strip, tones flickering and shifting through space as one’s gaze spins around the room.

Most startling, perhaps, is Spence’s pointed disruption of the surface plane. Across the placid mist of airbrushed acrylic, he’s scattered smudges and smears, daubs and fingerprints, in odd and unpredictable arrangements. Erring wisely on the side of restraint, he’s created compositions that are somehow gaudy and spare simultaneously.

It is, all in all, an exhilarating excursion. Engrossing if decidedly imperfect individually, the paintings sweep up together into a kind of symphony of an imagined femininity, saccharine and sordid in equal measure.

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Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B1, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through April 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Shoshanawayne.com

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