Critics’ Picks

Joshua Petker, Pleading in Blue, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36".

Joshua Petker, Pleading in Blue, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36".

Los Angeles

Joshua Petker

Anat Ebgi | Culver City
2660 S La Cienega Blvd.
May 1–June 5, 2021

Flirtation, at its best, is suggestive yet ambiguous, bold yet reticent, playful yet pregnant with meaning. The titular tease in “The Flirt,” Joshua Petker’s new exhibition, may be one of the figures depicted in the twelve dichromatic paintings, but the show’s title could just as easily describe the artist and his fertile imagination.

Petker’s elaborate tableaux of social activity feature libertines, musicians, and fair maidens. In one of the larger canvases on display, Pleading in Blue (all works 2021), a man converses with a woman seated in a chair, while two abstracted apparitions shroud the lady’s face and torso. The works with these ghostly figures—which frequently overlap the more solidly rendered characters—call to mind the figurative superimpositions of Francis Picabia’s “transparency” paintings. The most ominous of these recurring specters is also the silliest: a mustachioed dandy who resembles a dastardly villain from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Petker’s subjects are rendered in a variety of styles, so that they never seem to occupy the same plane of reality, creating a disjointed, dreamlike atmosphere.

In the cobalt-enveloped canvases, Petker glances furtively toward Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period, but an ebullient red appears in every painting—be it in the form of a stockinged foot or a simple flower—suffusing the work with a romantic element. The crimson-drenched Red Song, however, which portrays a lutist serenading a pair of wraiths, is the only picture that reverses this color scheme, offering a coquettish counterpoint to the show’s overwhelmingly cerulean cast.

Petker fills out the exhibition with smaller pieces, which include glimpses of hands and feet that hint at elaborate narratives between the paintings. These scenes from another world feel tethered to our own, though what that relationship might be is impossible to say; this enigmatic quality only adds to the enticement of the flirtation.