Notes on Looking

Hello friends,

Walking around Culver City this Saturday felt a little like watching a gang of overly confident, expensively dressed people tell the same jokes to each other and work to look casual in their exclusion of others at the party. And this was the art. The human crowd was as you’d expect – basic Angelenos and Angelenas walking around doing their various things. Not many people tried hard to look great, but then we don’t seem to have much sense of ‘promenading’ in our culture at the moment.

A big chunk of my night was taken up with Josh Peters Furious Seasons exhibition reception and panel discussion at Kaycee Olsen. The paintings look great and I’m happy to report that at the panel discussion, after a brief back and forth among Ezhra Jean Black, Kaycee Olsen, Josh Peters and me, the audience joined into a fairly spirited conversation about Josh’s paintings and about the film culture and pop culture from which he derives much of his inspiration. To my mind having an audience take part in a discussion is the point of any panel. I know what I think, and often if I’m paying attention I can surmise with the panelists might think – but when there are a dozen or so different people putting in their ideas and offering sometimes surprising viewpoints, well, then we all can learn something.

Nigel Cooke, at Blum and Poe, shows large paintings along with several more modest sized bronze sculptures that feature debased looking characters in debased looking landscapes doing depressing, self-involved things. These works are large-format social commentary and cultural critique and Cooke is rightly famous for his skill with paint. They aren’t very satisfying to spend time with because, at least for me, Cooke’s mockery seems too shrill and his message too proud in it’s lack of values. There aren’t any questions left to ask, after looking at this work – and that is where it loses me.

Across the street, at Cherry and Martin, Nathan Mabry has what must be a tour de force exhibition. The quarters are a little cramped but somehow this is ok, as it makes the whole more exciting.

(A small interjection.) Three shows on Saturday night included painted bronze sculptures. Nigel Cooke, Nathan Mabry and Gardar Eine Einarsson, each make use of this old and pretty tired manouver. Taking a material such as bronze; one that is expensive, beautiful and full of historical and cultural resonances and then casting it and painting it to hide all the luster can only make us think, “Oh! The artist has taken the sublime and made it look…. common and crappy!”

“Big woo.” as we used to say in middle school – which is about when budding artists figure out this art strategy.

Mabry compliments our intelligence by adding several additional and more interesting layers of critique to his work. I even get the sense that Mabry admires what he questions and has respect for the culture(s) from which he draws his models. I can enjoy the white painted bronze wolf mama who has Romulus and Remus depending from her teats and a cold storage unit (meat locker?) on her back. This entire heavy-duty statement is supported on a single truck tire, also painted white. (And, I hope, bolted into the ground.)

Not to throw out references that are bigger than they need to be – but can you think of another artist who makes work of solid, balanced metal that makes you tighten your butt with tension when you stand nearby? Mabry manages this and he makes me laugh, too. The freezer unit is a real freezer unit and so is not heavy. All the weight is at the bottom, in the bronze. With everything painted white to match the freezer, the weight flows up and down among the parts, and so does the cultural reference embedded in the bronze – osmosis draws it up into the meat locker and the historical importance then shifts about in my mind, making me wonder just what is important and why this might be so.

It’s a good thing, to write this stuff down. I just wrote myself into respecting work to which I previously had given short shrift. I’m not particularly chagrined by my former disaffection – I think perhaps this is one way art makes me grow. I really do have to question my own prejudices. Thanks for the help Nathan!

More and actual images tonight, right now it’s 1:20 pm on Monday, Jan 10

Around the corner and down Washington, Laurie Nye  has her first solo show in Los Angeles, Nature Diamond Figure. This is part of Artist Curated Projects residency at Parker Jones Gallery, Nye’s exhibition closes January 11 at 6 pm. Nye’s paintings are kind of odd. Her paintings most resemble those of the Symbolist painters of the late 19th and early 20th century – Odilon Redon came up in our conversation and she and David compared memories of visiting his room at the Musee d’Orsay. Nye applies her paint in thin washes that build up in layers, creating a nice luminosity with a matte finish that both glows and soaks up light. There are the creatures of nature that we expect in Symbolist work, and flowers, and in several cases the figure of a beautiful nude woman with a clear brow but with a look of concern in her eyes, or perhaps of contemplation.

When I think of it, among contemporary painters I’d say Nye has much in common with Tom Allen – an LA painter who has for more than a decade been making extraordinary paintings that have a similar high regard for their content and sources and also a similar disdain for the pointless  jumping through of conceptual hoops.

One painting shows a female figure standing behind a mound or bier of flowers and small creatures all tangled together. The woman holds our gaze and with her beauty and the active symbols of nature one might at first take this painting as an affirmation of life, of spring. But the woman’s demeanor is somber, and the colors are twilight colors and I was struck by a feeling of sadness. Tenuous sadness but still, quiet and rueful of some present circumstance and very much aware of the certainty of future pathos.

I have to say, this painting and our discussion of it led us all to consider the recent new year, and events that seem daily to overtake our confidence in the future.

As I said, Nye’s show is up through Tuesday, January 11 at 6 pm. Another ACP residency exhibition opens on January 12 with work by William Downs and then a final exhibition of work by Madison Brookshire opens on the 16th. ACP at Parker Jones will be open every day of the week from 11 am to 6 pm for the duration of the residency, on January 19.

Cheers, I truly have to go to sleep now. It’s 9:30 pm on Jan 10, and I’ve enjoyed talking with you tonight.

Sorry for no pix.


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