Critics’ Picks

Jay DeFeo on The White Rose, 1967.

Jay DeFeo on The White Rose, 1967.

Los Angeles

Bruce Conner

Kohn Gallery
1227 North Highland Avenue
March 1–March 30, 2002

Alexander Cozens developed the inkblot technique in the eighteenth century as a new method for landscape painting, believing that starting a work with inkblots could stimulate the imagination and suggest forms that could not be arrived at from merely observing nature. Many critics of the period, however, viewed the inkblot as a dangerous technique that abandoned the discipline required of drawing and could lead to flights of fancy—and, eventually, libertinism. Bruce Conner’s current series of inkblot drawings—ascribed to the aliases Anon, Anon., Anonymous, and Anonymouse—displays no fear of an untrammeled imagination, presenting shapes that suggest headless torsos, impaled figures, heraldic emblems, and cartoon faces. And in fact, contrary to the feared loss of discipline, the control Conner exerts over the technique is remarkable. Laying his figures out in rows of totemlike strings, he constructs an overall order of strict architectural forms: an arch in one drawing, an altar in another. Conner also makes apparent that inkblot is a form of process drawing; for instance, in Untitled drawing, January, 25, 2001, the folds in the paper that created the blots make an intricate grid.

In an adjoining room is a program of Conner’s films from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. These are truly major works, including The White Rose, the funny, sad document of the painstaking removal of Jay DeFeo’s painting The Rose, which she had worked on continually for eight years until it weighed 2,300 pounds, in the process of an eviction. In many ways, the film is a farewell to bohemian San Francisco. In a generous move, Conner has transferred eight of the films to DVD, which is available for a thirty-dollar donation to one of three charities—certainly the best art deal in town. His 1999–2000 retrospective at the Walker was one of the more impressive exhibitions of the last few years, and it’s nice to see he is still in fine form.