Elegantly of a Piece
"Paintings of the New Landscape" at the pretty Laguna College of Art and Design, nestled into Laguna Canyon, is a small exhibit curated by Laguna gallerist Peter Blake (who is in fact talking to me again). But there's a sweetness to it that has nothing to do with either its style or its subject matter. Instead, each of the six painters showing has two works, and in each of those pairs, bar one, the works complement each other in style and echo each other in composition, even though the subject matter of each pair usually has nothing to do with each other. It's almost as though each painting has a friend and a home.
Maybe I'm feeling sentimental because it's "the holidays," or maybe I'm cyclically sensitive. But it really was lovely seeing each of these pairs so elegantly of a piece. Each painter was clearly working in a favorite style, one that he kept close and cherished. While the painters' styles had next to nothing to do with each other, each was ingrained for himself.
Todd Brainard works in neo-Impressionism mixed with Clem Greenberg's mandated flatness; rather than an Impressionist's textured strokes, Brainard lets his hazy light sink into the canvas almost like a giclee. His Elevated Exposure is an ash-rose sky, a dentist's office sycamore beneath it. A skyline—is that Newport Center?—rises small in the distance. It's the same in Rural Conflagration. There are red roads, olive shrubs, oil derricks beneath a yellow sky. The subject is almost a Rex Brandt clone but for the pearled light so well-matched to its brother.
Aside from their coequal commitment to New Figuration (a school you won't find, as I just made it up), the artists in "Landscape" share almost nothing. While Brainard's getting his Impressionist ya-yas out, Suong Yangchareon ditches pearlescence and precious haze for downtown LA's hard, cold light. Echo Park Cityscape's flat, geometric lines are twinned with San Diego Landscape. Despite their almost antipodal subjects—Echo Park is all road and empty cars and shabby buildings, while San Diego is a bit hazier, more forgiving, and has just blue sky meeting rising, chaparral-dotted land—the composition is almost identical. San Diego has an empty mountain where Echo Park's large beige storefront stands, but they meet the sky in the same place, and they curve down identically to the same vantage point.
Ray Turner's City and Trees are more blatant, as well-matched as a set of diamond studs. Just inky black obelisks slathered on dark canvas, one wouldn't know the subjects but for the titles. Everything's based on the same electrons, with just varying amounts of space between.
Geoffrey Krueger's Water Tower and Single Tree each have a lone element monolithic on the canvas foreground, even though one's man-made, its lines strong on ebony black, and the other could be a Wendt or a Rose, new Romanticism on a dappled sky. Krueger indulges in phallic odes to man's love of progress (as evinced in those postwar American cityscapes of Nietzschean Superman high-rises) on the one hand, and manifest destiny purple-mountains-majesty on the other, though I bet his eyeballs would fall out of his head if you said so.
Donnie Molls' gray-on-gray works are most obviously brothers from the same specific series, which maybe is cheating a little. With their one-line horizons, Reservation (a compound transposed onto duct-tape gray) and Route 666 (the Devil's Postpile, maybe, on the same gray no-man's-scape) don't have to work to find their commonality and don't necessarily hail from a deep-seated beloved style so much as from getting together enough paintings for a one-man show.
Only William Glen Crooks fails to twin his works, to give them brothers. Walking Chicago goes for Nighthawks in daytime; all the figures are wooden, stolid and clad in mandals, while an Au Bon Pain window opens lethargic behind them. Going the Distance is an empty roadscape, a little bit hideous, pinks and golds and oranges in a bad way.
Just enough dissonance to prove the rule, I guess.
"PAINTINGS OF THE NEW LANDSCAPE," LAGUNA COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN, 2222 LAGUNA CANYON RD., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 376-6000. MON.-FRI., 8 A.M.-5 P.M.; SAT., 9 A.M.-4 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 23.
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