Photo Finishes From Sherry Karver and David Lyle at Laguna Beach's Sue Greenwood Fine Art Gallery

'70s fashion makes Uncle Wally’s ass hurt
David Lyle, "Are We There Yet?", oil on panel

All the Lonely People
Photo finishes at Sue Greenwood

Sherry Karver and David Lyle both paint realistic scenes based on photos, scenes that look at the people of America with a certain grim affection. But despite all they have in common, the work of these two artists could hardly be more different in style or intention.

Lyle specializes in gently satirical reworkings of the kind of family snapshots your Aunt Doris probably keeps in a box at the back of her closet. There's Cousin Ernie, with his first wife, Zelda, and her sister Sadie, all grinning with dorky sweetness through the back window of Ernie's 1951 Nash Rambler. There's poor old Uncle Wally, climbing out of the Dodge in 1970 and rubbing his sore ass when he thinks nobody's looking.

Lyle's work has a weird but undeniable charm; it marches up to you and gives you a big, sweaty handshake. His black-and-white images—apparently based on actual photos he scored at thrift stores and elsewhere—can have a Hollywood glow, like stills from old movies. But while Lyle's bikini girls can strike a fine starlet pose, they have long, plain faces and chunky thighs. Despite their best efforts, nobody is going to mistake them for glamour girls down by the pool.

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In our family snapshots, we're presenting the image of ourselves we want the world to see. Here we are at the Grand Canyon! See what a blissfully happy family we are? But you look back at those old photos, and like it or not, something of your true self has often slipped through. The woman who committed suicide at 32 never looked truly happy—she was faking a grin when she was 8 years old. The couple who eventually divorced never quite clicked right—you can already see a hint of joshing hostility in their courtship pics. Lyle's paintings have real appeal, but I find myself wishing he would dig just a little deeper into the lives of some of these people so we weren't just seeing them say cheese.

A few of his best paintings, such as Lost At Sea (depicting a scowling little girl and her pet puppy adrift in a pool on a little raft), do imply a life beyond the frame. But others, such as Star Struck (where somebody's grandma poses with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland), look a little too much like the photo-album pages we flip past on our way to the more memorable stuff. Big City simply shows an old car parked on a busy street. It's a pleasing image, but it's pure nostalgia that doesn't say anything.

Lyle's posed shots can be as stiff as somebody's real family photos—and about as interesting. But some of his candid shots have real poetry. What are the three old guys of Small Talk discussing outside that restaurant? Judging by the weary half-grin of the gent in the center, this talk doesn't seem so small at all.

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Karver lacks Lyle's eagerness to please. Her work is more brooding, offering up haunting little moments of modern, urban alienation. Her people wander through crowded train stations and bustling streets, lost in their own thoughts. All the lonely people, where do they all come from? Well, if you really want to know, you can read the short biographies printed on their bodies and clothes, written in fancy little fonts for all the world to see.

Meeting people can be such a chore. Looking out at a sea of strange faces, you wish it could be as easy as Karver makes it here, that you could read minds and know whom to trust and whom to step quickly past. But the problem with being a mind reader is that you can't select which truths to know. Karver's people are cursed to bear their childhood humiliations and silly affectations, everywhere they go. The poor schlub who got a dog to meet chicks can't hide this sorry fact from you, nor can he hide that, so far, it hasn't worked. (And his dog is burdened with its own capsule bio, too.)

But it's worth noting that these walking open books are the minority. Karver's pictures feature big crowds with the word-people scattered here and there, lonesome misfits who have so much more in common than they could ever know. And ain't that the truth?

Sherry Karver and David Lyle at Sue Greenwood Fine Art, 330 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0669; Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Aug. 30.

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