Renaissance Men

'Retrospective'

Surrealists like Magritte would've loved to shake the hand of artist Alex Gross. The historical, stoic and fanciful works of art Gross presents are awash with bizarre imagery—florid despite his palette of desaturation, doing the founding fathers of Surrealism proud. Modern-day musicians Blonde Redhead fancy him, too, as evidenced by the cover of their album 23, emblazoned with a four-legged gal in a creamy white dress wielding a tennis racket.

As for his latest exhibition, "Retrospective," it's a tip of the ol' hat to the Flemish masters: Van der Weyden, Van Eyck and Bouts. Gross manages to bow graciously to their 15th-century style, cunningly inviting it to waltz through modern times—picking up beautiful Japanese women and a swarm of delicate butterflies along the way.

Wait.

Is that a bottle of Gold Bond medicated powder?

Not unlike the masters of old, Gross uses a unique brand of symbolic interpretation to re-create his own somewhat-quirky model of redemption: a telephone, old advertising, an ice cream cone . . . a flaming zeppelin? The colors are wonderfully muddled, yet they never lose their strength and brilliance. It gives you a sort of old-timey feeling, but with a twist. Each image concocts a "certain something" that gives the illusion of buoyancy, yet leaves you to drown in its weight, marinating in an abyssal soup.

The eye devours each ingredient within this brew, attempting to digest its reason for being. We are puzzled by the Northern Renaissance image of Christ and a 1940s-ish Asian gal in a green dress, arm in arm. Is that really a Louis Vuitton purse she's clutching in her left hand? And why the lamb and a skull on the floor?

Don't despair. One doesn't need a degree in art history to just admire the visual treats on display at "Retrospective"—simply appreciate, if nothing else. But if you're seeking to fully "digest" each item of symbolism, bring some Maalox.

"Retrospective" by Alex Gross at the CSUF Grand Central Art Center Main Gallery Exhibition, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com . Opening reception, Sat., 7-10 p.m. Open Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Through Aug. 19. Free.

 
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