By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
They’re beautiful objects, but it’s an unsettling, precarious sort of beauty, like that of purebred animals, simultaneously mystical and decadent.
Jean Robison, CSULB
The space of the screen is dark, but for a single beam of light rolling across the surface of something pale and bulbous. It has curves and folds, like the human body, but an unfamiliar shape. Its skin looks raw and porous, like that of a plucked chicken, but it’s not a chicken. The scale is difficult to discern, as is the shape. Given the ominous soundtrack, however, which is taken from a horror film and suggests the approach of a ferocious beast, it must be something awful.
Actually, you realize in a moment, it’s only a burrito. The discovery relieves the suspense, but not the visual fascination. What a strange thing a burrito is up close, you think.
Jean Robison’s work explores the drama latent in small things: a burrito, a baseball, a bird in flight. “A Coca-Cola cup is complex, lurid and tragic,” she says. “Denim is more than a material for clothing. It embodies history, sexuality, freedom and binding.” Her videos are narrow and incisive, isolating these details from the clamor of the world and celebrating the complexity of their objectness.
Julie Rofman, CSULB
Julie Rofman describes her large, colorful, abstract paintings as “self-envisioned spaces where nonspecific artificial materials converge and collect.” Think of a scrap yard nestled behind an old set of The Jetsons, with free-floating heaps of springy, space-age forms, cast in the cheerful hues of Saturday-morning cartoons. Rofman has an impressive knack for illusionistic depth and uses it to tease the eye into frenzied action. It darts from one mangled cluster of forms to another, trying to construct a coherent sense of space. It tries to disentangle the forms, attribute them to recognizable categories. Are we in space? Under the ocean? In a fish tank? Is that a fender? A toaster? A garden hose? The pleasure, of course, is in the confusion. The works teeter on the line between image and representation, perpetually on the verge of cohering — or else falling apart.
Robert Russell, CalArts
With a half dozen L.A. solo shows already under his belt, Robert Russell comes to this exhibition — and to the completion of his MFA — with a thicker CV than most, and with a curiously wide-ranging history of subjects. Among the works we considered for inclusion here were paintings of flowers, golfers, a goldfish, a kitten, and a nude, Cassatt-like toddler waddling down a beach. There were portraits of children crying, of adults suspended in orgasm and of pigs tumbling shoulder to shoulder into pens. There were portraits of Castro, JFK and Pinochet. Earlier series included portraits of skateboarders, Los Angeles gardeners and strangers glimpsed in passing cars.
The through line is a deeply grounded, if restlessly experimental, painting practice. Russell has an impressive grasp on the mechanics of the figure and a particular talent for gesture, and the best of his works channel the personalities of his subjects with startling clarity. In recent years, this precision has taken a turn for the grotesque, as Russell developed an interest in what he refers to as “the decadent strain” of representational painting — hence the puffy toddlers and baroque expressions of rapture.
He describes these recent works as “unapologetically sentimental paintings” embodying “the ruins and remembrances of a gluttonous era in my own private art history when optimism and painterliness were synonymous.” They’re excessive, occasionally kitschy and sometimes rather ugly — but weirdly intriguing.
Frank Ryan, UCLA
It was the last open studios of the UCLA school year, and the building was buzzing with “promise” — a peculiar combination, these days, of old-fashioned collegiate optimism and the uneasy scent of market opportunism, with boosters and rivals, parents and pariahs (who knows which is which?) circling the students like moths.
We came upon Frank Ryan in a quieter studio just off the central thoroughfare, and his detached manner cut through the buzz in an instant. If there was a game, his cool nod suggested, he wasn’t playing it. He didn’t get up, didn’t say more than a few words. And, to his credit, he didn’t have to: The paintings propped up around his studio — particularly the dazzling 9-by-12-foot F Train — spoke for themselves.
Ryan’s intention with the work is deceptively simple: “I am interested in capturing in my paintings a sense of living in the city,” he says. The work reminds one, however, of how rich a thing that is. They’re large, unabashedly muscular works, but suffused with sensitivity: to light, space, the figure, mood. They’re bodily works. “Sometimes I can see myself as connected with the city,” he says, “as if the space that I call ‘myself’ and the space I call ‘my environment’ conjoin.” And they’re quiet works, drawn from moments of deep solitude. Think of a somewhat heavier Hopper, or a somewhat darker Diebenkorn, with a vein of Bukowski running through.
Lily Simonson, UCLA
“My paintings of semiterrestrial arthropods,” says Lily Simonson, “are an exploration of states of ecstasy and the concomitant rupture of the coherent self — liminal moments of becoming that entail a sudden and chaotic collapse of agency and rationality.”
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