Panter’s recent acrylics on canvas and paper on display at BSFA are literally dazzling, built up over shimmering Op plaids that wallpaper the retina like a mescaline-fueled cyberspace update of Paul Klee’s lyrical Bauhaus color grids. And, like Klee, Panter’s idealized geometric grounds are populated by a seemingly endless array of peculiar entities — robots, dinosaurs, cowboys, gravediggers, aliens, he-men and swimsuit babes, anthropomorphic watermelons, Old Testament prophets, and a slew of funny animals, from a gleeful pink whale to a drowsy sax-playing parrot. And that’s just the identifiable ones.
The exhibit — Panter’s first gallery show in L.A. since a two-man exhibition with his father at Shire’s La Luz de Jesus gallery in 1992 — is fleshed out with a selection of the artist’s equally masterful and fragmentary ink drawings, plus a recent series of one-of-a-kind hand-decorated heirloom dishes (which, at $125 a pop, are the art bargain of the season).
While Panter’s visual vocabulary — off-register appropriations and layered archetypal dingbats rendered with an unerring color sense and confident improvisational line work — has remained intact, it has recently been deployed in increasingly incoherent spatial configurations. His work has always been almost transcendentally flat, but the most accomplished of the new pattern-based works pulverize what semblance of illusionistic landscape remained into a jittery, weightless all-over plane where each goofy pratfall or cryptic architectural fragment is treated as an equivalent event — isolated, recursive and dimensionally indeterminate.
Not to invoke the dread concept of art practice being therapeutic, but the sense I get from these paintings — urgently weaving together some sort of new continuity to accommodate a cascade of discordant pop-mythical fragments — has a distinctly post-9/11 feel. “We went to see the Dada show [at MOMA],” recalls Panter, “and I just loved how crude all this stuff is. It seems like all these 1910 guys — if you go to a Russian Constructivist show or a Dada show or anything, they’re not painting like Van Eyck — most of them are kind of in a hurry. I think my stuff’s trying to be related to that kind of stuff in a way. Maybe it’s just a delusion on my part. But I’ve been feeling good about these paintings for the last couple of years, which has enabled me to move ahead and not spend time just staring at the wall. That’s a good thing.”
GARY PANTER | BILLY SHIRE FINE ARTS, 5790 Washington Blvd., Culver City | (323) 297-0600 | Through October 7