Francesca Gabbiani’s elaborate compositions in meticulously cut, colored paper, variously highlighted, shaded and patterned with additional line and brush work in gouache and acrylic, are the oddest of exercises in a kind of decadent folksiness. (They’re as likely to inspire you to go home and curl up with an Aubrey Beardsley illustrated edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé as to vow to never again be incredulous when listening to a beauty pageant contestant declare her passion for scrapbooking.) Not unlike what British painter Paul Morrison does in subjecting images to a consistent black-and-white treatment, Gabbiani’s cut-paper method, and the stylistics that are both its inspiration and its byproduct, present what is a kind of unified aesthetic front, affording a delayed and nuanced subtextual play of pastiche, stylistic multiplicity and semiotic bricolage. The results are strange amalgams of items animal, vegetable, mineral and cultural — rocks and crystals, architectural fragments, decorative objects, creatures from cuddly to fierce, and flora from prickly to lush — into what are not so much scenes, but rather what could be the key elements of a scene reassembled and compressed as if pulled by a gravitational force into monstrous objects. Gabbiani pictures these amalgams by piecing together her hand-cut paper following designs she generates on a computer, with the compositions finally set against a white backing and then displayed in simple frames. The most compelling of the object/masses pictured in the frames here are, in fact, frames themselves — compositions that amass imagery like so many barnacles at the periphery around a central black void. Were they actual frames, they’d find their place only among the most grotesque objets d’art of the Baroque or Art Nouveau eras. Framed behind glass, they deliver a surprising low-budget special effect as old as Narcissus — the appearance, just as you move close to inspect them, of your own reflection emerging from the void. They function as mirrors, but almost more as magic mirrors, and their kin range from the enveloping halos called aureolas or mandorlas from which figures sometimes emerge in religious art, to the wave-like graphic motif within which the mugs of guest stars appeared in the opening credits of The Love Boat television series. They become portals for re-establishing identity within a constructed fantasy context, and inasmuch, they both partly grant and partly mock our wishing-well wishes for such realignments, immersions and makeovers.
Patrick Painter, 2525 Michigan Ave. (Bergamot Station), Unit A4, Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., through Oct. 24. (310) 264-5988, patrickpainter.com.