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Heather Brown: Drawings at Parker Jones

Heather Brown, An Affair to Remember 5 (2009)

The title of this exhibition is a cheat that makes for a double treat. Brown’s solo shows thus far, and other outings in group shows, have shored up her position as a talented young painter, given to shifts between geometric abstraction, figuration and pattern painting. But she’s also invested in drawing, both as a way into painting and an end in itself. The new show at Parker Jones offers a broad view of Brown’s works on paper but also sneaks in a couple of paintings, which actually makes perfect sense. With the drawings and paintings hanging in one another’s context, you become more conscious of how seemingly drawn Brown’s paintings actually are, evoking associations with painters from Henri Matisse and Max Beckmann to R.B. Kitaj, Alice Neel and, more recently, Marlene Dumas. The paintings here, inspired by the idea of the sawn-in-half magician’s assistant, use the break between two canvases — as a diptych in one work, and in the other a reshuffled grid that causes two reclining nudes to wind up with one another’s bottom halves — to add an unsettling, uncanny air, as well as a self-effacing dollop of Surrealesque shtick to images that are sexy, electric, raw and tender.

The drawings, meanwhile, often deal in the sort of raw physicality that will be familiar to those who know Brown’s paintings, with plays on space — actual 3-D space, illusionistic space and page space — in ways that border on a kind of draftsman’s physical comedy, combined with a drawing style that is cartoonish but also careful and observant, and defined by an economy of flourishes and abbreviations. In one, a collection of nine faces arranged in a Brady Bunch–like grid are rendered in simple ink lines, and are suggestive of Daumier studies, only handled more like Peter Max, and with shifty eyes seemingly dropped in from a Georges de la Tour painting and hairdos indicated by cutaway voids that suggest a fusion of riffs by Andy Warhol and Gordon Matta Clark. In another, titled Calendar, a collection of tiny, nude male and female figures snakes along a zigzag line running from top to bottom of the paper. Variously arguing, emoting, loving and consoling, they suggest an epic one might find in a frieze wrapped around a Greek column or vase, but with a plotline possibly lifted from a Neil Simon play, and a humble, fumbling eroticism of the sort that might get two lovers laughing in bed. In yet another, faces seem to fracture into so many caricatures of themselves that the conventional double-profiled or two-faced Janus head evolves into something more like foldout crepe-paper decorations in which a single profile rotates 360 degrees around a central axis.

If you’re looking for academic figuration, you’ll unquestionably be disappointed by this offering. But if you’re looking for figuration that’s genuine, smart and pleasurable, and maybe a bit poignant about modern life and love, you might find a bit of homespun magic here.

Parker Jones, 510 Bernard St., L.A.; Wed.-Sun., Noon–6p.m., through Dec. 5. (323) 227-0102, parkerjonesgallery.com.


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