Anyone who has been around the Los Angeles art world for the past... um... 60 years can't fail but be astonished by the way in which Ed Moses -- dare I call him the "dean" of Southern California painters without provoking his ire? -- continues to produce great bodies of work that are, at once, entirely coherent in relation to what has gone before and yet entirely new, unlike anything we have seen. The "Crackle Paintings," currently on view at Patrick Painter Inc., are no exception. These large, masterful new works dominate the gallery space with their authoritative presence, engaging the eye and mind in delighted contemplation.
The "Crackle Paintings" appear to result from the application of a monochrome base color -- blue, green, red, black, etc. -- followed by a second, different monochrome layer that is allowed to shrink and crack in the manner of a ceramic crackle glaze, only on vastly greater scale (the paintings range in width and height from 60 inches up to more than 90 inches, respectively). It's a process that, as always with Moses' work, leaves much to chance, and likely costs a good many discarded canvases. But those he keeps -- and shows here -- are simply spectacular.
(The reproductions, in this instance, convey little of the imposing quality of these paintings.) The effect of the crackling is unpredictable and multifarious. There is no monotony, no self-repetition. We get the sense that each new painting is a new exploration of possibility, a new throw of the dice that produces effects that are gloriously evocative and, at the same time, have that indefinable feel of necessity, as though they have simply been allowed to become what they were always destined to be. They have, so to speak, found themselves through the action of an artist whose seeming ease with his medium belies long years of practice.
The artist, himself, was at the opening I attended. Moses yields nothing to emotion or artistic intention. "I don't want to express myself," he told me. (I think I quote him almost to the letter.) "I don't want to be creative. I don't even want to be an artist. I just want to be a painter." No matter his intention, his impressive energy explodes on canvas and communicates itself powerfully to the viewer. This old dog never fails to teach himself new tricks.
The younger dog I refer to in my title is my friend Richard Bruland, exhibiting concurrently at the nearby Lora Schlesinger Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. (I identify him as my friend only in the interest of disclosure.) Richard's work has something in common with Ed Moses: He lays down his paint (in Richard's case on wooden panels) in multiple layers, then painstakingly scrapes and sands the surface down, creating a crackled effect in which all those layers reveal themselves in an intricate, microscopic honeycomb of patterns, tiny, rhythmical nuclei whose lyrical musicality creates a complex dance for the observing eye...
"Citrinitas," 2012, acrylic/panel, 18" x 18"
"Malala," 2012, acrylic/panel 30" x 30"
In Bruland's work we get engaged in both the minutiae and, standing back, in the overall effect -- a movement, most frequently, from misty light to darkness in a variety of directions across the surface of the painting. The result can provide the eye with a suggestion of the stability of landscape (as in "Citrinitas," above), or leave us dizzy and off-balance, searching for points of reference in untethered space. It can evoke both the vast reaches of the universe with its countless galaxies and gaseous interstices or, equally well, the restless activity of the subatomic world.
It's Bruland's ability to work the ground between micro and macrocosm that lends his paintings their individuality and a sense of gravitas beyond the purely sensual appeal. His process is a clear reflection of his intention, a continuing search for what is hidden in the layers of paint, and what stands to be revealed with patience and sustained attention. I like his choice of titles, too -- perhaps because they are as mysterious to me as the paintings: "Sim Sala Bim," "Malala," "Minyan"... I catch hints of musical references here and there, and the words themselves share some of the musicality of the paintings. Perhaps that's it. Knowing that the artist is a big fan of music of all kinds, it makes sense that his visual work reflects that predilection and the extensive knowledge that goes along with it.
Also at Bergamot Station, at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, a not-to-be-missed exhibition of the (mostly) tiny ceramic works of Kathy Butterly. The collection is called "Lots of Little Love Affairs," and you can see why. Each tiny creation is clearly a work of love. Working with conventional pottery shapes, she stresses them wildly, somewhat in the manner of the great eccentric potter of Biloxi, Mississippi, George Ohr, to create appealingly vulnerable, misshapen, mutant things that tug at the heart even as they entrap the eye in their intricacies. Erotic and playful, they flirt cheerfully with disaster and flaunt their indulgence in gorgeous, gleaming color and fantastic frills. A pure delight. If you can't make it to the show, check out the display on the gallery's website, here. You'll be amazed.