MOCA just exhibited Robert Rauschenberg’s suite from the ’60s. Sandow Birk showed his new in-the-hood version last spring. And now, USC displays the etching-aquatint cycle produced by veteran East Coast painter Michael Mazur for an early-’90s portfolio. All these print sequences illustrate Dante’s Inferno, and each is glorious and frightening in its own way. Mazur’s is the most visceral, thanks to his fluid expressionist style, his masterful use of chiaroscuro and his ability to conjure fantastical creatures and broken men with but a few strokes of the brush. Expanding on the Inferno show is a look at Mazur the painter and draftsman, straddling abstraction and representation so deftly he renders the difference moot. Even in his latest works, where his sinewy forms seem sprayed on or cut out of flat areas of color — and thus bereft of Mazur’s usual depth of field — you get that sense of shape skirting identity and yet pregnant with meaning.
Merion Estes wields a brush loaded much like Mazur’s, capable of sensuality and severity, wit and ferocity, the organic and the decorative all at once. Estes, too, straddles abstraction and representation, playing very seriously with forms from all over the natural world, the world of pigment and the imagination. As seen in this small retrospective spanning her 35 years in Los Angeles, Estes paints in order to give full body to her visual fantasies — aqueous, floral, fervid and contemplative by turns.
Michael Mazur at USC Fisher Gallery, 823 Exposition Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., noon–5 p.m.; thru Oct. 28. (213) 740-4561. Merion Estes at Pomona College Museum of Art, 330 N. College Way, Claremont; Tues.-Fri., noon–5 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 1–5 p.m.; thru Oct. 29. (909) 621-8283.