You might mistake the first painting in Maaike Schoorel’s show for a blank canvas that picked up smudges while bumping around the Dutch artist’s London studio. But slow down — wait — and there she is. Naomi, painted at nearly life size, staring right at you, lies on her back in bed, topless. You see her as if, there with her, you’ve just parted your eyelids on a bright morning. This sort of experience — staring into a muddled blank, and then, after slowing your mind and adjusting your eyes, finding yourself enveloped in intimacy — characterizes Schoorel’s canvases, which are grounded in the lightest of pastel colors (more like white, slightly tinted this way or that). Gracing these grounds are figures, rendered in painterly but thin strokes, in a palette with almost no value variation in light and dark. The images register in what essentially are localized shifts in tint. The effect is impressive and evocative, tangling the phenomenological concerns of physical, gestural painting with those of light-and-space art, as Impressionist daubs and Expressionist slaps and slathers are converted into wafts, breaths and blushes. It doesn’t always carry, as in the case of a garden-scene triptych in which the shadowed gaps between the canvases introduce such contrast into the visual as to override the painted image. But the more powerful of these paintings (and that’s the majority of them) nearly haunt you, as materiality, presence, an ethereality fuse into pictures you have to constantly scan with your eyes to hold on to some sense of them; focusing in or looking away momentarily result in loss. It’s easy to sentimentalize Schoorel’s paintings, with their kinship to fades in and out of whiteness so commonly used in cinema to suggest awakening, dream, memory or (gag) “crossing over.” But if you can get past all that and focus instead on what Schoorel pulls off — a sense of something barely there and unrecoverable that nonetheless fully anchors you in the present — awe is inescapable.
Marc Foxx, 6160 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; through February 7. (323) 857-5571 or www.marcfoxx.com.