There's a lot of Picasso going around these days, and the symptoms present themselves clearly in Mark Grotjahn's current show in the downstairs space at Blum & Poe. Here, a baker's dozen of paintings — made from oil paint layered up on cardboard that also has been layered up atop stretched linen — assault you with heavily abstracted and sometimes multiplying eyes that combine with line work to overtly borrow from and reminisce about Picasso's own lifting of styles and moves from “primitive” art. But as Picassoid as they are, Grotjahn's paintings also are reminiscent of work by a number of proto- and early modernists, as well as a host of primitive-by-way-of-Picasso–inspired artists from Klee to Pollock to Basquiat. And as much as Grotjahn's paintings might be considered sums of parts that descend and derive from precedents, they might also be considered as home-radicalized fusions of Grotjahn's own tendencies previously evinced in more disparate bodies of work ranging from his cartoon-inspired works, to his mask drawings, to his “butterfly” paintings and drawings in which combinations of line and color deliver abstract compositions that register as nonobjective, but which also trigger that part of your brain that begins to recognize depth in a space that seems almost like it's unfolding between a butterfly's opening wings. Add to this dashes of both expressionist heat and some Warholian cool, and you begin to get a sense of Grotjahn's personal code. But what arguably makes these paintings Grotjahn's own is his compelling play of abstract and representational space. I can't help looking at his paintings without thinking of the Dali sequence in Spellbound, and I also can't help drifting into associations with artists like Hannah Hoch or California modernist and Dynaton movement co-founder Lee Mullican. Such associations are a matter less of style or imagery than of envisioning and giving image to different kinds of pictorial space — the space of the unconscious, the space of the spiritual or otherworldly, the space of collage and montage. The results are works that fuse renaissance space, cubist space, abstract and nonobjective space with surrealist and dadaist space, pop space and visionary-modernist space — a fusion that generates the real sense of the uncanny that the imagery only points at.
The influences of primitivism, Picasso, other European modernists like Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Isamu Noguchi and California modernist and Dynatonist Gordon Onslow-Ford, meanwhile, can be found in Blum & Poe's upstairs space in an amazing exhibition of work by late Northern Californian sculptor J.B. Blunk. The Inverness-based artist studied ceramics with Laura Anderson at UCLA in the 1940s, and, after a stint as a draftee in the Korean War, made his way to Japan, where he was befriended by Noguchi and introduced to potter and Japanese “living treasure” Toyo Kaneshige and a whole culture of revered craftspeople. These experiences shaped the wood sculpture for which Blunk became known. You sense in his works that his approach to a rigid, grainy material was informed by his understanding of a highly plastic, granular one — that he wouldn't have carved wood as he did had he not had the direct experience of working with clay. And you also sense that his sculptures, which hybridize and cross between furniture and sculpture in both function and association, could not have come about from the hands of anyone other than an artist who had been exposed to an international array of folk and regional arts and crafts, and an equally broad span of modernism, and then set up shop in the land of giant redwoods and craftsman bungalows. The show is a posthumous tour de force, and a fascinating study in how art is as much a product of its world and times as it is of an individual's unique path through it.
Blum & Poe
2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 10-6. Grotjahn through April 3; Blunk through May 15. (310) 836-2062, blumandpoe.com.