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Monique van Genderen at the Happy Lion

Monique van Genderen, Untitled (2009)
Josh White

Monique van Genderen’s latest paintings are both easy and hard to look at. Easy for that part of you who knows yourself as a complicated being and knows of existence as a moody and multifaceted endeavor. Looking at van Genderen’s paintings, you feel like you’ve just met a group of people who get you; never mind that they’re abstract. Hard if you’ve spent a lot of time looking at painting, particularly abstract painting. While painting rooted in image-based and symbolic representation seems to have had an easier time in the past few decades dealing with complexity and fragmentation — looking to the precedents of Dada and Surrealism, and, later, Pop and the Pattern and Decoration movement — so much of abstraction has remained bound in a quest for an idealized totality or singularity or purity, the fallout of midcentury painting discourse mired in concepts of color fields, integrated structures and all-overness. When you run across works like van Genderen’s, a kind of does-not-compute error message flashes across your brain. Across her 6-foot-high-by-4-foot-wide panels, which suggest the scale of humans and doors, van Genderen works out mood-shifting compositions in layers of variously viscous and transparent oil, enamel and alkyd that range from candylike glazes to things that look like they grew in a petri dish.  One part of a painting might seem effervescent, or even sublime, or maybe just as light and good as orange sherbet in summertime, while another might seem agitated or amped, and still another awkward, mired or burdened. If there’s a figurative presence in these works — and there is — it’s something like the presence of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest — lots of traces and tracks, but no solid sightings or forensics. There’s no anatomy in van Genderen’s works, but there’s movement, and there’s a kind of mania involving an attempt to keep things moving and in order, and a hint of admission as to the winging-it behind that aspiration. Rainbows and sludge, frivolity and harshness, levity and density all negotiate surprising gestalts in these works. Whaddya know, they’re not pictures of us, but they’re a lot like us — finding ways to hold it together.

Monique Van Genderen: The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Rd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 12-6 p.m., through July 11. (213) 625-1350 or www.thehappylion.com.