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Wednesday, Sep 6 2006

Joshua Aster, UCLA

When asked about his work, Joshua Aster replied not with a statement but with a “List of Conditions.” “The paint is heavy with water,” it reads. “The brushes are foam and bristle and sponge. The application is consistent and mindful of its neighbors. There is no definitive source material.” He admits to making up rules only to break them, but the gist abides: “The process by which these paintings are made remains the true source of inspiration.”

Whether wall-size acrylics or small-scale watercolors, all of the works follow a basically geometric formula (Aster uses the term “geomocratic”), tempered by a pointedly loose method of application. The compositions consist of varying configurations of stripes, squares, and pixilated diamond- or braidlike patterns resembling those found on Navajo weavings. The lines, however, tend to slant and sway, the squares swell and shrink, and the patterns occasionally clash or awkwardly overlap. In some pieces, these accidents produce an unexpected harmony; in others, they just feel awkward. In either case, however, the rhythm of the process is absorbing enough to draw the viewer along.

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“I organize to create chance,” Aster concludes, “as an awareness of one’s own predicament.”

Aster is one-third of the ex­perimental band OJO, which will play at the show’s closing party, October 13.

Claire Baker, UCLA

We met Claire Baker within hours of the final crit of her first year at UCLA, and the unchecked fervor with which she launched into an explanation of her work came as a reminder to us of why we wanted to mount this show in the first place.

In the “real world” of art, there are so many opportunities for cynicism: The museums are moribund, the gallery system is corrupt, the market fosters mediocrity, and the artists so often oblige — choose your target and you’ll find your justification somewhere. It’s not that these complaints don’t afflict MFA students: They’re not children, obviously. But with this few-year window carved out from under the mantle of real-world pressures, they’re one step closer — one would hope — to the magic of what actually happens within the space of a painting (or a drawing or a print or a photograph or a sculpture).

Watching the avidity with which Baker engaged the terms of her project — tackling questions of space and depth, line and movement; holding up whatever it was Lari Pittman had said, then stepping back to consider whether or not she agreed; sorting through the significance of bicycle spokes and rope and other elements of personal symbolism — we could easily believe that this business of mark making was not only exciting, but eminently worthwhile.

Patterson Beckwith, UCLA

In contrast to fellow UCLA grad Tracy Powell’s continent-spanning landscapes, Patterson Beckwith’s still lifes span only a few feet of blackened studio space and a conscientiously artificial range of color. One of the series we’ve tapped focuses on free-floating soap bubbles; the other, on cheap bouquets of grocery-store flowers.

The soap bubbles are a technical feat: Some are clear, some opaque and filled with smoke, some colored. Fog wafts through the air around the bubble, itself often tinted various colors. The effect, however, appears effortless and magical.

It was the flower series that first struck us, however: specifically, a pair of images of a sad little bouquet of dyed-blue daisies, crammed artlessly into the narrow neck of a glass vase. In one image, the blossoms are lively and open, almost hopeful; in the other, they’re dried up and twisted, with a wisp of fog passing behind like smoke on a devastated battlefield. There is a terrible pathos to the transition. They were bright-eyed creatures once, these daisies, but, given the degree of aesthetic poverty they’d been dealt from the start, they never really had a chance.

Jonathan Butt, USC

Jonathan Butt has very clear ideas about what he does and doesn’t do.

“I have chosen to be a sculptor,” he will tell you. “This is not an allegiance to any particular material, nor is it a longing for the robust poetry of male labor.”

The parameters of his practice are equally distinct. “My work is compact,” he says, “with a limited number of features. It is not too simple and not too complicated. Solid or hollow, forms are voluminous with decisive edges. There is very little in the way of smearing and scattering. If something is en masse, then it is an orchestrated cluster. More likely, however, unique characters aggregate a project. The goal is to make a work that is understood in terms of its sameness to a viewer’s own body.”

What’s striking, however, given the insistence on these qualifications, is the variety his work actually entails. Done, one of Butt’s two works in our show, involves a roast turkey cast in fiberglass, perched atop a pile of plastic slabs with an oar in each wing as if rowing to freedom. (He says he got the idea from a cartoon in which a starving castaway envisions his companion as dinner.) Apollo and Daphne, by contrast, is a vaguely classical rendering of two life-size figures suspended in flight, one of them splintering beautifully to pieces.

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