LA Art Rounds

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We're in town for the weekend, and will be spending the better part of it checking in on the art galleries to see a number of shows we have been postponing. Yesterday, Friday, we started out at the furthest point from our house, LA Louver Gallery, where we had been looking forward to seeing the latest collection of paintings, drawings and etchings by Tom Wudl, whose work we have followed since the early 1970s. I was especially interested because I had read, in advance, the text included in the announcement, that the work in this show were inspired by the Avatamsaka Sutra, the "Flower Ornament Sutra." This painting...
and this drawing...
... should give you some idea of the result. (Please use the link above for titles and other details. You'll also find a useful statement by the artist.)
In an art world where it seems that size is still regrettably some measure of success, these pictures dare to be quite tiny in scale. (The gallery even offers a magnifying glass for close examination!) They are meticulously executed, accumulations of finely painted details which come together to create the overall image in much the same way as pixels create the digital image--or atoms gather to create what our eyes perceive as objects. I see each of these pictures as a meditation, an enactment of practice as an aid to focusing the mind even as it creates an object of remarkable, compelling, breath-taking beauty. Acts of uncompromising, dedicated attention, they require the same commitment from the viewer, inviting the eye to participate in each moment of their creation. They become, seductively, without overt or pious religious intent, objects of spiritual devotion in the same way that icons and mandalas have done over the centuries. A truly wonderful experience.
From Venice, we drove back to Culver City to Cardwell Jimmerson Gallery to see the work of a good friend, Peter Sims, who has been a loyal member of our artists' group for years in a fine exhibition that also includes the work of another friend, Bob Burchman, and a third artist, Ron Griffin. Titled Abstraction in Reverse, the show explores the interface between representation and abstraction in the work of these three artists. Peter Sims, our friend, has been taking as the "subject" of his paintings tiny fragments from the world of design--a candy wrapper, a bar code--and enlarging them into what look to be large-scale geometric abstractions. In this remarkable painting (excuse the cell phone photo; be sure to link to the exhibition site, above, for better images) ...
... he takes one small corner of a tapestry by the Bauhaus artist Gunte Stoelzl and transforms the image on a huge canvas, building up layer after layer of paint (160 lbs of it!) until the thing becomes a gleaming mass of pattern, flowing form, color. The texture of the paint mimics, in a strange way, the texture of the weaving, but takes it to a place the original designer never could have imagined--a place where paint itself reigns as the monarch of the moment of its making. In this way, the artist transforms the cultural trivia of our times into an aesthetic reality of its own--showy, sexy, seductive, sensual, rich in sheer abundant presence. The trite phrase "a treat for the eyes" takes on a whole new meaning here. This is a visual banquet.
Bob Burchman--a sometime reader of my daily blog, The Buddha Diaries, I'm happy to report--has a different approach. He paints reflections of art works, captured as photographs and rendered as faithfully as possible in paint on canvas. Here's the reflected image of a famous work by the Los Angeles-based artist Ed Ruscha...
... with, in the background, the reflections of the other pictures in the exhibition in which it is included. Skillfully done, these paintings leave the viewer's eye in the illusory space between the real world and its mirror image--and the mind in the same space between reality and illusion. For the Buddhist, it's all an experiential, existential reminder of one of the basic truths of the Buddha's teaching: that what we perceive to be the real world is no more than the construct of our minds. Burchman's paintings place us smack in the middle of the enigma of our selves and our relation to the apparently solid world around us.
Ron Griffin also addresses the illusory nature of reality. In paintings like this one...
... the seemingly collaged common objects--sheets of office stationery, envelopes--are in fact painted on the surface of the canvas (the printed lettering, reversed, is done by a transfer process). In two remarkable, large-scale "books", Griffin walks us through a series of similar fragments of the real world--a take-a-number ticket, for example, of the kind you pull to mark your place in the supermarket line--recreated in trompe l'oeil detail in modeling paste and paint. The play, here again is between what we imagine that we see and the reality that actually meets the eye. The skill with which this play is set in motion is what assures the success of the visual and mental tease.
We made a final stop at Cherry and Martin where we found a stunning series of C-print photographs of the Biosphere in Arizona by the artist Noah Sheldon.
This man-made "natural" closed system proved to have a curious history. Once the pride of biological sciences, it is now apparently in a state of some neglect, and Sheldon's pictures capture some of its shabbier aspects. This is not, clearly, their intent, which perhaps more accurately to reflect on the environment itself--the beauty and the mystery of planet we inhabit and the way in which we apprehend and experience it through the senses. His interest in the synesthetic experience in which sight, sound, smell and touch are stimulated simultaneously is evident in the sensual quality of his photographs, whose matte surfaces contrast with the usual glossy expectation of the C-print and seem to open up the image seductively to the eye. At the same time, Sheldon's pictures remind us poignantly of the delicacy and vulnerability of the natural world, at a moment in history when such reminders are an important remind of its need for our protection.
Altogether, a good day at the galleries. Thanks for joining me for this brief review!