One of the grand old men of the “clay revolution” now 50 years past, John Mason is still making sculpture out of baked mud. Moreover, he’s still making objects distinctly his own, hewing to a rigorous geometry that modulates between minimalism, finish/fetish and architecture. This show establishes the continuity between Mason’s current crop of severe but sensuous “trans-orbs” — intimate investigations into the unfolding of planes — and the ambitious firebrick installations of the early ’70s, one of which occupies Frank Lloyd’s main room. Grand Rapids comprises a sequence of low-lying platforms up which an incline rises like a robotic spine. The work’s space-splitting dynamic makes us respect the new pieces all the more, allowing us to imagine them, too, on a heroic scale, house cats transmogrified into lions. The juxtaposition also allows us to imagine a really big and thorough Mason retrospective.
John M. Miller shares more with Mason than first name and last initial. Mason’s pared-down form becomes Miller’s idée fixe; for the last three decades the latter artist has painted nothing but a pattern of small bars — Morse code dashes, if you will — working its way diagonally across every canvas. Normally Miller reiterates the pattern in black on white, but, as Margo Leavin’s quasi-microspective shows, he sometimes reverts to white on raw canvas, or even white on white, and has not been averse to coupling black-white and white-tan panels. This admixture of contrasts makes the insistent pattern buzz all the more in eye and head, but for all the op-art jangle, it’s strangely exhilarating. Miller’s singular devotion to such an elemental notion, disastrous in politics and religion, becomes transcendent in the realm of art. John Mason at Frank Lloyd, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 3. (310) 264-3866. John M. Miller at Margo Leavin, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 10. (310) 273-0603.