In With the Out Crowd: Sally Storch at Sue Greenwood, Andy Moses and Robert Porte at Peter Blake

Damn OCTA buses are never on time
"Party Dress" by Sally Storch

In With the Out Crowd
Alone at Sue Greenwood, seeing the sea at Peter Blake

Sally Storch's paintings are inescapably reminiscent of the work of Edward Hopper, to the point that some uncharitable soul might even accuse her of ripping off Hopper's style. She paints urban scenes of the mid-20th Century—people in old-timey clothes standing by themselves on street corners, lost in their thoughts as the fading sunlight hits them just so; waiters and waitresses cleaning up around closing time; subway cars with a lone passenger.

But the feel of Storch's paintings is a world away from Hopper's—or at least a coast away. While Hopper took us into a stark, melancholy New York, Storch's work has a much more homey, California feel. There's a big difference between being alone and being lonely, and Storch's people are the former. They seem like people who have friends and lives, but we just happen to be catching them when their friends are elsewhere, as they're taking a moment to just think about stuff.

Storch's paintings don't haunt you the way Hopper's do. Her characters don't have that almost purgatorial solitude Hopper brought to his late-night diners and movie usherettes. And if we're comparing her technical chops to Hopper's, she falls short. There is a sketchiness to her work; her places seem solid, but her people have a vagueness or haziness to them. But in her case, that sketchiness isn't a liability. She captures a mood, those in-between times when people are so lost in a thought that they're barely in this world at all. Her people are vague the way real waiters are vague when you spot them behind the register, looking off into the dark. Maybe they're thinking deep thoughts, ones that could transform the world. Or maybe they're just thinking about what they're gonna have for dinner after they punch the clock. They're the only ones who know.

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Gaze into Storch's world and wonder what these people are thinking. And perhaps as you do, somebody will gaze at you and wonder what you're thinking. And you'll be the only one who knows.

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We have no idea how to describe the current show at the Peter Blake Gallery in a way that will make it seem even half as compelling as it really is. Robert Porte paints the ocean. Andy Moses fills canvases with big, colorful streaks and swirls. An artist like Storch makes it easy for us because she paints people and places, and her paintings tell stories. But artists such as Moses and Porte create work that doesn't tell a story—it's a purely visual experience, art that fascinates you the way sunlight fascinates you as it passes through the tree outside your window, the leaves casting 345 dancing little shadows on the wall of your office. Those dancing little shadows are real, and they mean something to you, but good luck trying to explain what that something is without sounding like a hippie idiot who's been up all night smoking banana peels.

Moses' streaky paintings are fine, but I prefer the swirls, which look like what happens when you're mixing house paint in a bucket, then you put a few drops of dark in with the light and stir it around real good, and, just for a moment, you kind of forget what the heck you're doing as you get mesmerized by the paint going around and around. It's like that, only big and on a wall.

Porte specializes in capturing the many moods of the sea, but these aren't the kitschy, crashing waves of a million paintings hanging in a million hotel rooms across this fine land. Porte presents the sea and sky as they are, without prettifying them, although his titles are certainly evocative (Burial Site, It's All Back There Now). Porte's seas look like what you would see if you were on an long ocean voyage, and you looked out a random porthole a few times a day, and you happened to see the sea. (See?) Sometimes the sea and sky would be gray and listless. Other times, there would be choppy waves and a brooding sky. But no matter when you looked, you'd experience a tiny moment of awe at all that water stretching off to the horizon, uncountable gallons of the stuff between you and the world you came from. (It's All Back There Now, indeed.) Porte's paintings are like that: tiny moments of awe.

Sally Storch at Sue Greenwood Fine Art, 330 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0669; Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through May 31; Andy Moses and Robert Porte at the Peter Blake Gallery, 326 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9994; Call for hours. Through May 29.

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