Southern Exposures

Eleven LA artists move painting forward.

The Oakland Museum of California is back on the scene with
L.A. Paint, an eclectic show of paintings from LA
selected by curator Phil Linhares. Four themes seem to apply:
Folk-art/Assemblage (The Date Farmers, Esther Pearl Watson), Cryptic
Narrative (Steve Galloway, Loren Holland, Robert Williams), New
Abstraction (Brian Fahlstrom, Hyesook Park, Steve Roden), and
Conceptual Figuration (Don Suggs, Linda Stark).

Naive art-school art is of course a paradox, but a viable one these
days. The Date Farmers (Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez) are
enthusiastic collectors of Mexican pop culture. Signs, stickers, poker
chips, booklets, packaging, and other cultural detritus (Spider-Man,
Malcolm X, Mickey Mouse, Geronimo, and Jesus) are combined and
juxtaposed in their multi-painting installations. Watson relives her
childhood in Garland, Texas, in mixed-media paintings that imitate folk
art. Her eccentric father built spaceships in his garage; she
commemorates them in works like “Kids Beat Up the Saucer.”

More overtly fantastic are the magic realists. Galloway’s tableaux
defy analysis: a chimp, a headless mummy, a chicken woman, a
putto, and a skeleton speedboater enact a private drama somehow
connected with High Art in one painting. Less abstruse are Holland’s
dark-skinned heroines, scantily clad and nubile, set amid lakes or
forests like nymphs, albeit surrounded by junk food, bleach bottles,
cigarette butts, condom boxes, etc. — Sex and the
meets Henri Rousseau. Williams, the éminence
of “lowbrow” pop surrealism, exhibits images of gleeful
weirdness, e.g., lab-coated Martian brainiacs monitoring real-time
broadcasts (nude and x-ray channels) of a tight-skirted woman ascending
a nearby staircase.

Abstraction here claims loftier art precedents. Fahlstrom’s still
lives and landscapes suggest the modernist achievements of Braque and
Masson, but also the postmodern uncertainties of Chia and Salle. Park
seems to have the odd couple of Twombly and Kiefer in mind instead: her
ambitious, large-scale monochrome works play collaged elements against
gestural painterly space. Roden, a musician, transcribes his atonal
musical compositions into assigned paint colors; his iconic symmetrical
images resonate like sustained chords.

Intellectual resonance is the aim of Conceptual Figuration. Suggs
examines famous paintings (e.g., “Mona Lisa”) and chooses an “emotional
center” from which to plot subsequent colors radiating outward. This
sequence in mind, he paints banded circular canvases rotating on a
turntable — it’s art-historical spin art (reminiscent of Sherrie
Levine’s monochrome “Meltdown” paintings, color-averaged, osterized
versions of masterpieces). Stark chooses subjects for their beauty and
danger (cat, cobra, spider) and centers them on fields of textured,
tactile oil paint; Ruscha’s word drawings come to mind, here given a
personal spin. L.A. Paint runs through March 15 at Oakland
Museum of California (1000 Oak St., Oakland).

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