Annie Lapin at Angles Gallery
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Annie Lapin, 1:6:2:3:1 (2008)
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Yvette Gellis, Open Window (2008)
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Monika Baer, Untitled (Multiple/drop) (2008)
Imagine yourself a portraitist whose services are requested one day not by your typical human patron but by a dust devil, a small twister, that beckons you to come outside and capture its likeness in paint, and promises to be as good a sitter as it can be — containing itself somewhat and trying to hover in roughly the same spot while you do your work. Such could be a myth of origin for one of Annie Lapin’s paintings at Angles Gallery. Lapin lays down a collection of sharp marks, the sum total of which is a blur of energy — as much a description and depiction of force as of form — and such could describe most of the works in this impressive debut. Rather than clear narrative scenes, Lapin paints states of being, often anomalous or uneasy. Some of her paintings are reminiscent of the painter David Park, or the earlier works of Joan Brown, with figures inhabiting and defining spaces dominated by mood. In Lapin’s work, however, the figures often become like apparitions caught in spirit photographs or reflections seen in a hall of mirrors. You’re often unsure whether they’re really there, or if they’re more energy and movement than flesh and blood, and with several canvases, when you attempt to account for the figures present, you never really can settle on a head count.
Other of Lapin’s paintings are more suggestive of Richard Diebenkorn’s later work, with shapes and colors stacking up with just enough hints of pictorial logic to suggest that you are looking at something somewhere between an abstraction and an illusionistic representation — though when Lapin gets into such business, the results are more chaotic. Such is the case with a painting in which, just as you note the horizon that seems to secure the illusion of a landscape with a figure, you note a second horizon. This suggests a collision of worlds, whether pictorially, metaphorically or, within the anomalous range of possibility upon which Lapin insists, an actual dropping of one world atop another.
The likes of Park, Brown and Diebenkorn don’t just identify the Bay Area Figurative School painters that Lapin’s work evokes but also indicate the range of her practice, and her ability to work between representation and abstraction. But her paintings are never as comfy as a Park or a Diebenkorn; even when they start to feel serene, they maintain a sense of agitation, and often they deal in the sort of antics found in the more distant precedent of Symbolist painter Odilon Redon, whose overripe palette Lapin’s work sometimes recalls, as does its ability to deliver scenes of sweetness and even reverie tossed with stormy unease. Lapin also has clearly taken a kind of permission from neo-expressionists, especially, it would seem, the German Georg Baselitz, and what we might now call post-neo-expressionists, like the Brit Cecily Brown. And like these two predecessors, both among the stronger exemplars of their genres and generations, Lapin looks for grounding in bedrock — less worried about neo, and more serious about expressionism. The results are works that feel perpetually on the verge and on the edge of something excitingly uncertain. They’re the sorts of scenes that suggest both the promise of heaven on Earth and the threat of a falling sky. Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru June 21. (310) 396-5019 or www.anglesgallery.com.
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Monika Baer at Richard Telles Fine Art
If you know Monika Baer’s work, you might have difficulty connecting the artist responsible for small collage-drawings of meat and athletic musculature, or washy abstract canvases from which materialize delicately rendered faces and coins, seemingly dropping out of thin air, with Baer’s latest, much more reductive and graphic compositions. But there’s a through-line that emerges: a preoccupation (facilitated by Baer’s impressive technical range) with exploring ways that images can speak of mortality. Baer’s latest offering uses the breast as a motif. Seen in profile and with a silhouette that straddles some maintenance of naturalism and a kind of international-symbol generic reduction, the breast appears in isolation, inching in from the edge of the canvas, or often emerging, as if poking out from behind a curtain, from seams Baer has actually sewn into her canvases. Such compositions allude to bodies that remain otherwise concealed, but more often than not — and especially in compositions that show breasts seemingly cascading in space or appearing in groupings that would make their connection to behind-the-scenes bodies unlikely — these breasts become independent entities, less apparently severed or disembodied than made autonomous and given full rights of personification. Some are fleshed out with greater realism, while the silhouettes of others become formats or windows within which Baer composes both abstract and representational compositions; most are a flat, pasty white with blushing nipples, sometimes dripping or spurting. If that last phrase borders on the embarrassingly intimate, then it makes sense, because, like Philip Guston, whose influence Baer surprisingly signals in this exhibition, Baer risks the embarrassing and the intimate, and, like the characters — often body parts that stand in for whole bodies — that populate Guston’s paintings, sometimes peeking out at you or pulling the bed covers up around themselves, the breasts in Baer’s paintings risk vulnerability to achieve intimacy. These paintings are as goofy and clumsy of vanitas as one has ever seen, but they are nonetheless kin to the more stylish or elegant and dramatic of Baer’s works in drawing you near and speaking of life and passing. Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru June 14. (323) 965-5578 or www.tellesfineart.com.
Yvette Gellis at Kim Light Gallery
If paintings had to worry about their diets, Yvette Gellis’ would be on their way to a heart attack. The large canvases in Gellis’ solo debut would be better described as slathered than brushed, with a rich combination of acrylic and oil paint, and a honeylike Galkyd medium. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but think of an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart, compelled by Homer to eat buttered bacon, complained, “My heart hurts.” But the goo in Gellis’ paintings has less a savory taste on one’s eyes than a combined suggestion of the chemical and the confectionery — sludge meets cake frosting with dashes of lipstick and glitter. Laid on the surface, all that material also adds up to a dose of gestural figuration, foregrounded in each canvas against backdrops of interior architecture and cityscape that are much more leanly rendered in lighter brushwork, thinner paint, straight lines and a grayed-out palette. The lesser of these paintings seem to hedge their bets in an effort to please, offering up relatively conventional sketches with a dollop of texture and a splash of color, like hosts wanting to indulge but not sicken their guests. But the stronger pieces, which push their materials and their compositions to what seems a risk of structural failure — and which also risk nausea — become richer as both material experiences and metaphors. Kim Light Gallery, 2656 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru July 12. (310) 559-1111 or www.kimlightgallery.com.