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Shape Shifters 

Sam Francis, Shauna Peck, Melinda Smith Altshuler

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008

Everybody loves Sam Francis’ work for its riotous, flowers-abloom palette. But Francis, steeped in Zen as well as painting, knew that nothing was more colorful than black and white. Furthermore, when Francis worked in the gray ranges, the rigor as well as the exuberance of his forms emerged like an overshadowed younger sibling. To see so many monochromatic works amassed here, free of their more extravagant relatives, reveals that the master dripper was in fact a master shaper, one who reveled in triangles and squares and spirals and crosshatches, and rendered them as both strict geometric shapes and loci for far more characteristic smears and splatters. These, refreshingly, are not just pretty pictures. But they’re pretty powerful. Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 938-5222.

Sam Francis, Untitled (1976)

Shauna Peck’s pictures and objects are also pretty powerful, not least in their almost-iconic concentration on single images. Whether painted in a gritty, cloudy encaustic or hewn in encaustic-enhanced bronze, Peck’s works reveal a similar pathos in the commonplace and the dramatic. In her hands, a chair or ladder can be as visceral and ominous and plaintive as a bone or plant; all seem to bear the imprint of use — not abuse, just the erosion of time and employment that seems to soften the hardest things.

Melinda Smith Altshuler has a similar feel for objects but a slightly more distanced, contemplative appreciation for far less likely subjects of contemplation — houses, furniture — and a rather more peculiar way of manifesting that appreciation. Altshuler’s appropriated real estate images seem to decay before one’s eyes, and her odd transformations of ordinary storage bins and midcentury furnishings are enfolded in a ghostly minimalism. Bandini Art, 2635 S. Fairfax Ave., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru May 3. (310) 837-6230.

click to enlarge Sam Francis, Untitled (1976)
  • Sam Francis, Untitled (1976)

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