Some paintings give me diamonds, some paintings, heart attacks
Some paintings I give all my bread to, I don’t ever want it back
Some paintings give me jewelry, others buy me clothes
Some paintings give me children I never asked them for.
Painting is dead. Painting isn’t dead. Painting is dead! No, it isn’t! Yes, it is! Isn’t! Is! Shut up shut up shut up shut up!!! Okay, now that we have that out of the way . . . Painting isn’t the denial-plagued zombie elephant in the room — art theory is. It’s one of the lines Leonard Cohen left out: Everybody knows a work of art that doesn’t speak for itself is a failure as a work of art. Fortunately, in spite of the best efforts we critics have mustered to impose Artforum’s Rules of Order on the rabble, art — and particularly the medium non grata of painting — just won’t shut up.
Painters in the contemporary art world, particularly those from L.A., have to maintain a chameleonesque indeterminacy about their artistic intentions — be all things to all people — or face ghettoization. Is this an abstract painting? Or a painting of a painting of an abstract painting, wink wink? It’s the emperor’s new clothes all over. The ultimate irony is that the emperor is actually decked out in an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — the plausible deniability cultivated by painters for the social sphere creates a temporary autonomous zone in the studio wherein a thousand flowers have blossomed. No one can pin them down, so they can get away with anything. The psycho art-market bubble hasn’t hurt production either.
So the question that generated “Some Paintings,” the third L.A. Weekly Annual Biennial exhibition, isn’t whether or not painting is a dysfunctional plastic category, or what makes painting relevant in today’s global-a-go-go art world, or even “How can curating a painting show make me seem clever?” It is, simply, “What would it look like to have a broad-spectrum sampling of contemporary L.A. painting in one space?” We just got tired of waiting for some high-profile museum to put it together. How difficult could that be?
Pretty difficult, as it turns out. The hardest part has been the narrowing down. With an initial list of more than 300, and a dream of whittling the list down to a 60-something précis (which ended up closer to “90 under 90”), the shuffling and reshuffling of possible permutations — looking for correspondences and polarities, designating redundancies, and trying to orchestrate a multiplicity of often-dissonant artistic voices into some vague coherence — was just the prelude to the grim task of making the necessary cuts.
I don’t even know how many painters are in this show anymore, but it amused me that at the point I began to write these capsule profiles, there were 78 — the same number as there are cards in a tarot deck, a pictorial system that condenses all the possibilities of life into one set of archetypes. Past, present, future — all will be revealed! Perhaps there’s room for interpretation after all. Just cross my palm with silver.
In the past decade, Lisa Adams has gone from smart and sweet formalist abstraction to carefully rendered, spiritually and politically infused natural-history symbolism, building a deeply authentic interdependence of form and content.
The unconditional wealth of subtly nuanced pleasures from color, surface, scale, and compositional choices in David Amico’s industrially derived work reflects the eye of an artist who has lived in a Skid Row studio for decades and managed to keep actually looking.
I knew Michael Arata as a sardonic, community-building, public wiener-cooking daddy-o before I recognized his quirky conceptualist takes on painting (creating google-eyed entities from the negative spaces of lingerie models, for example) as one of the most original — and funniest — voices around.
Josh Aster continues to apply hislight but masterful touch to a washy, colorful world of soft geometry. His recent work broaches the digital/natural schism, building layered planes of feral data, swarms of pixels and splashes of chaos into edgy infotainments that defy resolution. Or your mattress is free!
Hilary Baker’s pop-archetypal landscapes have acartoon theatricality that goes beyond jaunty antics to embrace mystery, paranoia and alienation. Her recent works have become less and less populated by her cleaned-up Gustonesque eyeball entities — opening an even more dreamlike space of unsettling enigma.
Lynne Berman has been rediscovering her painterly roots with a series of cool but frantic bruise-colored geometric abstractions on aluminum and delicate swarms of watercolor marks derived from research trips to Bosnia or a “film tour” of Austria — fourth-dimensional snapshots.
Gifted multimedia narrative populist Sandow Birk’s amazing “Depravities” show at Cal State Long Beach in December used up his store of new Iraq-war paintings, but he dug out an early-’90s collaboration with graffiti artist Devin “Relm” Flynn for “Some Paintings.”