It’s a straightforward formula, guileless and visually familiar. Taken with the ideas of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, Elizabeth Tobias speaks his words, translates them into oscilloscopic wave forms, infuses those with color and blows them up really big, into color fields rippled with pulsing asymmetries. The recognizability of the wave forms gives the photo-murals an unanticipated intimacy without compromising their sense of extra-earthly vastness. Awe radiates through and throughout the works, which serve as a meeting place for the infinite and the terror of the infinite itself.

The pretext of “Dear Mr. Saltz” is a response to a 2004 article by former Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz (now with New York magazine) asking artists to give up painting (or at least painting mindlessly) from the photograph. But the show’s real premise is that there are artists here in L.A. who paint from the photograph and produce work of substance. Indeed, the pieces in the show by and large refute the notion that we’ve seen too much photo-based painting; they gratify the gaze and stimulate the mind. The painterly paintings are the most intriguing, but the whole range of approaches, from the nearly expressionistic to the Warholian, samples the possibilities without exhausting them. Douglas Bloom, Julie Brown-Smith, Allison Cortson, Ed Johnson, Chad Robertson, Greg Santos, Tyler Stallings and Holly Williams-Brock constitute the Saltz-shakers; pick up the catalog containing Saltz’s article and their (and local critic Shana Nys Dambrot’s) verbal and visual replies. Elizabeth Tobias at Bert Green, 102 W. Fifth St., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; (213) 624-6212. “Dear Mr. Saltz” at Pharmaka, 101 W. Fifth St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; (213) 689-7799. Both thru June 30.

—Peter Frank

LA Weekly