Imagine if Goya, chronicler of the excess, decrepitude and depravity that brought brutal irony to the end of the “age of reason,” and Fragonard, master of late-Ancien-Régime French Rococo fluff, were given a crash course on the developments of Impressionism and Expressionism, Pop, feminism, “Bad Painting” (some of which wasn’t bad), “New Image Painting” and Neo-Expressionism, and then were asked to collaborate on new paintings — and you might get something like Valérie Favre’s works.
There’s no shortage of rollicking frolicking going on in the Swiss-born, Berlin-based painter’s first Los Angeles show, much of it committed by bunny women (a frequent motif in Favre’s work) resembling Playboy bunnies genetically engineered to sprout tall ears and fluffy tails, and pumped up to Amazonian musculature. They, and other humanimals, variously rock out, grandstand, play, menace, box and sport a scythe amid gestural/atmospheric backdrops that manage to seem simultaneously confectionary and tempestuous, rendered in a stylistic mélange suggestive of Edvard Munch, Philip Guston, early paintings by Neil Jenney, and even LeRoy Neiman.
Favre’s images sometimes seem as if they’re only divulging part of a story — cropped down from larger scenes — but it’s uncertain whether, if you could pull back like a camera person getting a wider shot, you would likely find foofy picnickers and maidens swinging from boughs, or dismembered bodies and brutes clubbing each other to the death.
The conflation of the lovely and the harsh, the alarming and the serene isn’t easily pulled off, and is often handled via telltale juxtaposition of imagery — a device Favre wields well. But more impressive is her ability to register such tension by way of astute paint-handling, color and light work, and deployment of style.
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 933-2117 or www.vielmetter.com.