Curator Jamie Brooks has gathered together five of LA's best figurative artists in "Future Recollections," one of those rare gallery shows in which the artists—who have nothing in common stylistically, aside from the fact that they paint portraits—work perfectly in synch with one another.
The head of the pack is Grand Master Don Bachardy and his bracing portraits of friends and celebrities. Painting from life, he's unsparing in giving us the flushed broken capillaries of pink skin, the jowly bulldog-faced close-up, the jaundice of a spray-on tan, the questionable fashion sense of people unused to picking out their own clothes. The features feel exaggerated, thinner than humanly possible, even caricatured, but there's nothing cartoonish or ridiculing coming off the paintbrush. Bachardy is just painting what he sees, and that acrylic honesty is something to be cherished.
Bradford J. Salamon also paints what he sees, but sees things darker, more visually complex and more realistic than Bachardy, his colors skillfully uniting background, foreground and subject. Thin, gray lines at the sides of a picture link to the wispy gray of his model's eyebrows and beard (Jan Taylor); the pink of a woman's hair (Lillian Batts) also graces her lips and cheeks, slashes of brown supporting her head as well as highlighting her hair. At other times, the often-miasmic background threatens to overtake the subject: In his portrait of fellow artist Ray Turner, Salamon's mottled color seeps into his subject's skin, dissolving the top of his head. In larger portraits, with two or more figures present, the cramped surroundings are often more interesting than the people he's painting: In The Letter, the accumulated detritus of suburbia—shabby furnishings, bland painted walls and the pretense of coffee-table books—is more riveting than any narrative he's providing. Likewise, the couple in Pink Purse pale in comparison to the hip movie-poster collection hanging on the walls behind them. In White Rabbit, three generations of women and a pet go about their business or pose as if they're aware he's there, but for the most part, they don't care.
It's impossible not to love former cartoonist William Wray's droll dismantling of comic and pop-culture icons via mundane situations, with each picture drawing on our childhood associations, and then wickedly pitching them into the shitter: Superman gets mail from his apartment mailbox as a chain-smoking Batman glowers from behind a screen door (Roomates); Batman sits in an alley with a gun at his head (Fuck It); the Pink Power Ranger changes the channel on her TV set and smokes a fag, beer cans, bottles of booze and prescription meds nearby (Power TV). The most telling is Princess Homebody, with its catatonic yet sparkly, crowned woman sitting on a pink couch, rigid and transfixed. It's a painful backhand to every female fantasy life beset by the reality of spilled Big Gulps and screaming children.
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Rebecca Campbell's naturalism is full of a narrative complexity that has you scouring every inch for hidden details. Her oil-on-canvas Daddy Daughter Date, with its well-dressed father sitting in the cathode glow of a television screen, the carpet looking as if it's made of blue squirming maggots, feels menacing. His daughter, dressed in a Lolita-esque outfit of white fabric, red ribbons and heels, stands tentatively framed in the doorway, unsure whether to enter. There's an implied peril in Charlie In Forest, as well, with its small boy, clad only in underwear and socks, gazing at something glowing in his hands. There aren't any adults present amid the copse, just a multicolored pennant string high above him. Whether the image portrays a child's vulnerability, his isolation or his curiosity is unclear; as with every picture of hers present, it's beautifully painted and unsettling. Even her most realistic painting, Great to Say Hello, feels as if it's the moment just before something bad is about to happen, its background beginning to flare out and blur around an unsuspecting young man.
The faces are friendly and approachable on Turner's grid of six oil portraits on glass—titled Blondes, Brunettes, and Balds—his brush lines smooth and assured, the thick paint accentuating the wrinkles of a face or a wave of hair in a way that demands your engagement. Turner's easy ability to command attention is at its most obvious in his second grid of six on display: Good Man Bad Man, Red, Orange. Hung next to a 36-by-36 oil slick of a portrait of British painter Francis Bacon (36 BACON), each of the 12-by-12 faces is smeared, blurry, in movement, raw and bloody, mute, obscured. In a show celebrating the body, it's a subversive insight for curator Brooks to let the last thing you see as you exit be these mini masks of misanthropy, the panicked, fearful eyes their only distinguishable feature.
"Future Recollections" at Jamie Brooks Fine Art, 2967 Randolph Ave., Ste. C, Costa Mesa, (949) 929-4143; www.jamiebrooksfineart.com. Open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Through Oct. 18. Free.