Specific Abstractions

It all returns to Von Dutch for me (I'm still getting responses to my Jan. 8, 2004, cover story on the dude, "Von Who?"—which was up around 100,000 web hits when our web hits counter was shot trying to escape.), but especially for Von Dutch. Bless Kenneth Howard's tar-stained little ticker—and the pack of red Pall-Malls he may or may not have kept in the shirt pocket directly over his heart—he had a story for everything. Like the time George Barris asked him to paint the shop truck, locked him in the shop to do it, and got an abstract cobwebby masterpiece for his trouble the next morning. It looked like "Charlotte's Web," but Dutch's story? It was the tale, he said, of a man who eats a bowl of Chop Suey (it was the '50s) while walking through a valley, contemplating a "terrible suicide plot." Which is exactly the kind of derring-do—and cigarettes—you need to do "Abstract Works" at the J Flynn Gallery. There's a reason they call them abstracts, not specifics.

If you hate abstracts like Hitler hated Jesse Owens, then this maybe is not the show for you. But if you're at all on the fence—like me—it just might pull you over on its side.

Maybe this is how every abstract show is, and the genre just has a very undeserved bad reputation—but every "abstract" here actually looks like something. Kind of. If you use your head. Except, maybe, Jenny Day's four square canvases which hang behind owner Jack Flynn's desk. One is Carbon Blue; one is Carbon Green; one is Black/Gold (Texas Tea?); and the fourth is Burnt Sienna. And? They look like colorful squares, the color swirled on in stripes of green-to-black-to-green or blue-to-black-to-blue. They're nice, except they almost look like something, and somehow that's not quite enough.

Across the room, Amy Lindquist hangs a series of three small untitled works (all her works are untitled) which bear an uncanny resemblance to cowhide stretched on a canvas, though less hairy. That's nice. Not that you like cows or anything, but they're in your frame of reference—somewhere. Off the side, maybe. Plus, how does she get paint to look like a cow, without it looking all '80s? Pretty amazing. Even better are her other canvases, which resemble close-ups of a forest of paperbark trees, all peel-y and crinkled. At the top of one, you can very nearly discern what could be a row of skyscrapers way off in the distance. Or not; it depends upon you, and what you bring to the show.

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Speaking of which: Thom Wright of Long Beach, oldest guy in the show, and painter of several pieces which—like those by Orange Countian Ed Bopp—resemble real live things. Bopp gives you a slew of whimsical takes on whales, in various colors mostly not found in nature. His Appropriate Abstract Title (Product 1) shows a whale under a black sky, bursting through the ice—a theme he then repeats three more times in different colors. The first is best, though; perhaps, again, because it's most like a real live whale (but maybe we just hate the repetition. We hate it. The repetition). But maybe also because it's too obvious.

A little abstract is a good thing; Wright gives us that. His Global Warming Cycle #19, one of a series, looks like what a World War II bombardier would've seen from the nose cone, looking down at the tiny hamlets he was about to destroy—clouds coming through all wispy, adrenaline ready, everything appearing all bitmapped (before bitmapping existed). That, or they're weather maps, showing assorted hurricanes, tornadoes, presidential elections cutting swathes across the country. Either way, they get your mind working, which is really the whole point anyway.


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