Course Of Empire

Ron PastuchaThe blurb sounded intriguing: "Ron Pastucha's large-scale oil paintings combine witty satire with significant and timely historical metaphors." Only it turns out there's not nearly enough wit or satire to satiate our funny bone, and the history angle is derived from the idea that Laguna Beach-based Pastucha largely copies the works of mostly long-dead classical painters and inserts them into modern, bleak settings —gas stations, junkyards, freeways, refineries, Ground Zero—for the six large works, four medium works and several small panel studies that make up this show, "Shock of the Old: Scenes From the Roamin' Empire."

Ultimately, this was okay because several paintings made us really angry, but in a good, political way. Since this is a gallery show, we did spend a lot of time wondering why anyone would pay $6,000 for something as ugly and silly as Where Angels Fear to Tread, in which Pastucha mixes images of Dick Tracy and characters from Dante's Inferno—uhh, is the medium enamel on canvas or vomit on canvas? We also tired easily of the one-joke theme: Transit Authority, based on Caravaggio's Entombment of Christ, depicts catacombs replaced by the Mount Sinai subway stop, complete with figures adorned in billowing robes; in Boom, Being Lowered, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and into a steel-choked industrial wasteland, or maybe it's New Jersey. Yeah, we get it, something about the scenes of ancient historical and mythological miseries replaced by ones we're all living in now.

Fortunately, several of Pastucha's other works go a bit deeper, but that may be because we're still pissed-off about the stupid fucking war. Take Life, Liberty, Pursuit and Happiness Row Mars Into the Gulf, for instance. Could that body of water be the Persian Gulf? Aren't those fully functioning oil refineries off in the distance? How about that orange oil barrel bobbing past the wooden boat? Don't the voluptuous female depictions of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms—Liberty, what huge knockers you have!—look like they've just been violated by Mars, the Roman god of war? And shouldn't Pastucha have just gone all the way and painted George W.'s image on Mars' mug? Hell, yeah! But hey, we're not the artist, though this piece more than any other illustrates that the Roamin' Empire of this show's title is a decidedly American one. It's also hard to miss the meaning of the show's centerpiece, Lady Liberty Abducted by the Centaur Mobil, in which Mobil's flying-horse corporate logo takes on a human form—male, of course—and kidnaps sweet, pure, virginal Liberty by using an American flag as a rope. Why, yes, Pastucha says, oil companies—not to mention a cabal of oil men—have taken over the country! And we're all being held captive! And thanks to Pastucha, we now hate Bush more than ever.

"Shock of the Old: Scenes From the Roamin' Empire" at Seven-Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-1555. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Through May 31. Free.

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