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Come a Little Closer

July 26, 2011

Summer programming at Fine Art Galleries around town is a mixed bag. Some galleries close for the summer months and some just resort to a sampling of represented artists. But with the advent of a 24-hour news cycle and a surplus of productive artists creating interesting and challenging artwork, the summer months are now as vibrant as the “cultural season” that overlaps the academic calendar.

Such is the case at an outstanding group exhibition at William Griffin Gallery in Santa Monica on Nebraska Avenue.

There are eight works of art by seven artists in this subtle and succinct group show. Stylistically diverse, thematically tangential at best, the show’s diversity fuses on two elements: the color blue and a micro/macro pendulum swing.

While the hues of cerulean and cobalt pulse in the retinas as you traverse the expansive space, it’s the macro/micro-push/pull that really engages the viewer’s eye. Let me explain.

There are particular pleasures to be gleaned from seeing a work of art up close. Stand inches away from a Jackson Pollack drip painting and you can loose yourself in the minute detail of the swirls and patterns that are embedded in the canvas. Pull away from the canvas and these minute details create a vastly different effect. It could just as easily be called the forest from the trees effect. To know the trees is to understand the forest better.

On a pop cultural note, there’s this wonderful scene in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off when the three main protagonists visit the Art Institute of Chicago. Cameron, played by Alan Ruck, loses himself in the pointillism of George Seurat’s massive painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. John Hughes accomplished, in these few scenes, a perfect representation of aesthetic arrest. Check out the clip on YouTube. But I digress…

Oliver Arms, Double Dare, 2011, Oil on Canvas (Detail-Wide View)

All of works of art in the Griffin exhibition benefit from this zooming and unzooming sensibility. A large painting titled Double Dare by Oliver Arms is created by voluminous layers of oil paint which are scraped and sanded away once dry. The large 72 inch square field coalesces into a field of undulating color but seen from inches away, has detail that is simply staggering. Blues figure prominently but the details of the erosion create landscapes that are singular. The technique also works as an interesting metaphor of memory. Layer upon layer of experience creates abstract patterns and yet erosion/excavation of those same memories merely create different patterns, nonetheless abstract. I look forward to seeing more Arms’ work in the future.  (All the images that accompany this article have both detail and wide views of the work of Art.)

Deanna Thompson, Purple Homestead, 2011, Oil on Canvas (Detail-Wide View)

While Arms’ painting is a tour de force of abstract effort, Deanna Thompson’s even larger painting, Purple Homestead, is almost photographic in its painterly effect. The 96 inch square canvas is divided horizontally between blue sky and ashen earth. Centered in the landscape composition is a ramshackle shed, lonely, isolated and unapologetic. Again, stand inches away from this exquisitely rendered hut and you marvel over the magic that paint, brush and gesture can accomplish. Step back slowly and the painting fuses into a landscape of near photographic exactitude.

Peter Wegner, Space, Time, Weather, 2003, Enamel on 40 Wood Panels (Detail from left-Wide View-Detail from right)

Peter Wegner is an accomplished conceptual artist. I’ve written before about his particular brand of conceptual sculpture/installation. His mediums are varied but the delights that his work elicit are consistent, intellectually and optically. Wegner is handsomely represented by a monumental installation/sculpture. 40 elements, each measuring 2” x 4” by 8 feet tall are lined up vertically  on the gallery’s large cavernous space. The blue paints that syncopates the rhythms of the piece are drawn from paint swatches easily found in the paint department of Home Depot. Slyly, the identifying numbers and their oddly poetic names are also included on the sides. The gesture is bold, the source material is banal, the effect is sublime.

Robert Therrien, Blue Snowman, 1985, Oil on Canvas (Wide view-Detail)

While both Arms and Thompson are represented by paintings made this year, Robert Therrien’s painting dates from 1985 yet it bears the contemporary urgency and freshness that deny its 26-year age. Simply stated it’s an image of a geometrically reduced snowman with three decreasingly sized ovals atop each other. The snowman is centered in a field of white/beige but as you approach, the paint starts to reveal itself as layered and accumulated colors that fuse. It’s a simple treasure that resonates upon further contemplation. (I had forgotten actually these wonderful paintings, since Therrien has commanded a lion’s share of  his reputation from his monumental sculptures.)

Making a similar effort with each of the remaining works in the exhibition will yield similar delights. The group show continues through August 13th, 2011.

Mario M. Muller, July 25th, 2011, Los Angeles

William Griffin Gallery
2902 Nebraska Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

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