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Whitney Bedford at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Lovers (2009)

You have to give yourself over to Whitney Bedford’s paintings, which combine gestural brushwork with more discrete marks in what the exhibition checklist says is “ink” but appears to be some kind of marker pen, on panel. You have to be open to the possibility that within the clumsy, cartoonish and seemingly simple, you might be able to access the sublime, beautiful and complex. That’s the opportunity upon which these lovely works deliver. A few, more drawn than painted, are more explicitly figurative and deal with Cleopatra at the moment of her reckoning, but the rest, more painted than drawn, are less specifically referential or representational than allusive. Bedford’s paintings evoke Goya, which sounds grand anytime someone makes such a claim, and perhaps doubly so here given that most of Bedford’s paintings are essentially mashes of smudges, daubs and dashes — more clearly akin to the works of late-modern painters like Philip Guston (in both his Abstract Expressionist and cartoonish phases), or Jules Olitski, who created something of a fusion of Ab Ex and Pop sensibilities. But they do in fact evoke Goya’s plays of compositional turbulence, and atmosphere, and his working of point of view in relation to objects and the horizon to generate a sense of simultaneous placidness and trouble brewing. Bedford does a lot with a consciously limited vocabulary — mostly horizontal rectangles divided between ground plane and backdrop by low horizon lines, usually no more than a fifth of the way up from the bottom of the panel. She then drops in lumpy yet prickly forms — mounds of marks — either cut off at the bottom of the panel so as to foreground them; cut off by the horizon line so as to push them into the distance; or cut flat at the bottom so as to make them sit on the plane in middle space. But she tweaks them — in their relation to one another, in slight variations of shape, and in the variety of marks that comprise and orbit them — so as to achieve surprising variety, like a person giving a single word many meanings by means of inflection. Some suggest ships approaching (or sinking) in the open ocean (not surprising, as they often too are evocative of Turner); volcanoes, rocks or hillocks jutting from the land or seascape; bodies on a floor or bed; herds or hordes thundering in the distance; or explosions going off too close for comfort. Bedford succeeds at creating paintings that are pleasurable, humorous and even sweet, while also powerfully resonant.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects: 5795 West Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., through July 11. (323) 933-2117 or www.vielmetter.com.


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