Just Like in the Movies

Modern Myths at Grand Central Art Center

James F. Lorigan introduces us to each separate element of his mythic paintings one by one, as if each painting is a character in a Robert Altman flick.

In an Altman movie, the waitress will hit the little boy who won't have the birthday cake baked by Lyle Lovett. She will serve the fishermen who will find a body, and each character will pirouette around the others, knowing the dance or mere ships-in-the-night, until the cataclysmic end.

Lorigan, too, gives us seemingly random bits—bunnies and snakes and yellow ribbons—that eventually tie together into an intricate Short Cuts interconnectedness. You know, like Nirvana. Yeah, just like that!

Lorigan gives us a carrot first. It's a regular old painting of any old carrot except it's really an exceptionally fertile carrot top, which, like Sister Wendy's description of pubic hair, is a lovely, fluffycarrot top. The carrot—titled Attainable—hangs from a slender, subtle string against a soft, cottony sky. It doesn't seem like it will be yanked away cruelly; it seems full of promise, bouncing there in the air like it just don't care. No tricks, we hope. No tricks.

But of course there will be. That happy carrot will never be within your grasp.

All that portent and doubletalk for a carrot. Just wait till Lorigan gets to the bunnies!

James F. Lorigan's "Modern Myths Ancient Fables" at the Grand Central Art Center is as eternal as its title suggests. But it's marred by Lorigan's modernity, which tends toward the fey. In Aphrodite's Slippers, the least successful of Lorigan's works, a pair of ballet slippers floats in a lily pond. You want to attach a concrete Ophelia story to them, but they're doubtless a highly personal symbology—and in fact, pop up Meg Linton's exhibit catalog, and a tale of athletes' sacrifices (in the forms of disciplined young ballerinas working away their youths) appears, married somehow to the story of Hermaphroditus. Arp?

You know what I always say: disregard the artist's intent, my dears. It couldn't matter less.

In Spring, small heaps of stones are piled up in the forest, Blair Witch-style. A wine glass is perched atop them, the casual mark of some oblivious Romantic on the nature he claims to adore as it is. It's as though we just can't help blithely sullying things. The mate to the painting, Hide Inside, piles the same stones in the briar patch of two shivering bunnies. A yellow ribbon is tied to a branch, before which the bunnies tremble and cower. Now our presence isn't just an insult as we strew our leavings around us; it's a mortal threat. We don't just sully the world with our detritus; we make war on it.

It's in Hit and Miss that Lorigan begins to hint at what's coming. Two largish canvases mirror each other, and like the movie Sliding Doors, they show the same event unfolding with possible outcomes in alternate universes. Hit is blue sky. An apple rises, bisected cleanly by an arrow; its trajectory is such, its aim so perfect, that only the head of the arrow can be seen, embedded so deep it looks like a butterfly or a moth. In Miss, the sky is gray. The apple and the arrow, separate, unjoined and incomplete, fall to earth. They're clumsy, opportunity terribly squandered. They're graceless, off-kilter, off-beat. William Tell's arrow could have pierced his small son's skull.

And then in Follyand Sub-diversions, Lorigan's work becomes complete. Folly gives us a huge canvas, a valley vista. Every clover in the shade of the tree is there for us, and every headstone in the graveyard in the valley far below. It's rich, crisp, hyperreal, a blend of the cynicism of F. Scott Hess and the sentimentality of Thomas Woodruff. We stand atop a bluff, looking down into the valley. A river, a farm, big sky. The gravestones are there, but they're not gloomy or sad; they're matter-of-fact, just the end of life. It's Hudson River School composition and detail mixed with Grandma Moses nostalgia for an idyll that never was. And up on our bluff, there's an apple in the tree. A snake in the grass. An arrow piercing, penetrating like every man's secret vision of his lethal prick.

Subdiversion gives us what we knew was coming next just as soon as we saw our snake and apple. Our blue sky has gone stormy—Lorigan never neglects to have even the heavens in solidarity. Does evil never happen beneath mocking bright skies?

Our sweet-clovered bluff is dry and parched. A cactus pricks where our apple tree stood. We look down into what had been our river and our farm; our river is a road, and our farm is farming tract houses. There's a turtle instead of a snake, and the bunny we met earlier goes after our attainable carrot, which now lies under a propped-up box, ready to catch him with the briefest tug.

And we are caught for rabbit stew. And what had been sweet childish tales Beatrix Potter could have loved are instead fear and loathing and rage against suck—against which rage is futile. Eden is lost, and we are caught for rabbit stew.

Justin Robert Bower bleeds and stares. He is not subtle. There is no portent, no foreboding. There is only wound. You can take away the same lessons as from Lorigan, but with louder screams.

Showing several large works in the Grand Central rental gallery, Bower creates the self as Frankenstein's monster. Dividing a face into quadrants, he misaligns them so they leer crazily, askew like Shannen Doherty's. They're monstrous, cadaverous and toxic.

Bower is not a hopeful man, and he's not a shy one either. Head Injury is blood—blood coating everything thickly, the hands, the face from which wide blue eyes stare. The rest of us cloak our pain at least a little; it's the modest thing to do. Bower labels his. Biology Lesson shows a man's mottled face. "Boil" points a bullet. "Scabies." "Toxic." There's no Joni Mitchell here; we are not star dust; we are not golden.

We are boils and scabies. We're poison. There's no getting ourselves back to the garden.

James F. Lorigan and Justin Robert Bower at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233. Open Tues.-Wed. & Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Lorigan: through Oct. 26; Bower: through Sat.
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