PRINT October 1966

Two Showings of Younger Los Angeles Artists

TWO LOS ANGELES GALLERIES, the David Stuart and the Dwan, chose the summer months to present exhibitions of younger artists whose work is but very little known even locally. At the Dwan Gallery, in a series of line drawings, John Caruthers explores various geometrical possibilities of evenly spaced torsions and tensions. Basically flat or illogically overlapped situations, they take their cue from Stella in that a bar possesses the ambiguous possibilities of being a boundary division and/or an enclosing or subdividing line. The overall shape is square and the consistent attempt is to disrupt the equal set of tensions by the invention of a new set of symmetrically inverted or axial ones. The limitations are that divisions are made only horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and the design halved or quartered. As drawings the style is as coolly remote as straightforward exercises in planning conundrums.

Likewise, Stella’s wish for a method of paint application as neutral as a house-painter’s may be the source for Caruthers’ depersonalization of the painting process. To the designer’s specifications, commercially prepared canvases were executed by a professional sign artist for Al Baker Series #1 and #2. The thin glossy paint and the reinforced black guidelines are the only clues that these paintings depart from usual practices. This procedure of collaboration has an ancient tradition of approved usage and is enjoying a current revival. However, as there are shared responsibilities, there is also the need for firm control by the artist cum art director. As an experiment, the prototypes are to be considered a middling success; as paintings they have strength and are enormously engaging.

Accenting the general, accomplished use of newer methods and materials found in Dwan’s presentation are the “paintings” of Jessie Jacobs. Neon tube constructions of various hues and densities are casually (awkwardly?) shaped into circles, ovals, and rounded frames behind a translucent plastic panel. Two are stabile, two cycled for change (which is entertaining but perhaps unnecessary). There is a cinematic feeling to these large black-framed constructions. They are naturally presented in a darkened room; a flickering effect is produced by the intensity of the source, and the plastic surface, where unlit, possesses an amorphous puttiness. Jacobs’ constructions combine brilliance of color, purest at the center of the tube, with diffused edges, creating a situation of intensified opticality. At opposite poles from Irwin or Reinhardt, one is brought nevertheless to a similar state of hallucinatory fixation, a search for the source of the images’ generation and for boundaries of forms.

Richard Matthews’ presentation, while smallest in scale of the individual contributions, manages to fully confirm his sophistication of taste and dedication to craft. A new asymmetrical approach is obviously a break with previous isolation of frontal columns. Directly presenting single found pieces of highly polished metal, they are mounted upon a mirroring metal plate backed by highly finished walnut. The bronze and stainless steel complement the warm wood tones and are set off by shiny screw heads.

The found materials are not merely salvaged, but selected, purified, and redeemed—stripped of romantic associations of usage—substituting the romance of the mechanical form embedded in the industrial landscape.

Isolated upon their respective pedestals and plaques they most nearly resemble the specimen prepared for the assembly line, the executive’s demonstration model, or the divorced and symbolic presentations found upon award trophies. The scale is small: Hummer but a few inches; the largest, Paceminterris under two feet. Matthews’ predilections have tended in this slighter, closer view, direction. The nature of found materials (shape, amount and arrangement of detail, availability) as well as the artist’s circumstances lead to this scale, recalling the comparison of Schwitters to a butterfly collector. Still, one looks forward to more ambitious, equally elegant works.

Ambition reigns in the compartmented monoliths of James Massey, painter-turned-sculptor. Reading as a single unit, most pieces are multi-sectioned and multi-colored. A single shape is subdivided, cut into, extensions rearranged, added on. For all their volume the sculptures are conceived of as projections of a two-dimensional layout, the usual practice of an artist conditioned to the picture plane. The forms are not of the conceptual sort, however (i.e., schematic or minimal), in that the effect of a shift of viewpoint cannot be gauged despite the realization that one side is reversed and repeated on the other.

Geometric in orientation, reminiscent of Constructivism, the combination of straights, sweep arcs, insets, and bowings parallel the wrappings of package designs, cabinet consoles, or machine assemblies. There is the implication that the placement and fitting together of parts is contrived about an interior volumetric necessity, but without an implied functionalism.

The scale is imposing. They are displaced across floor space (Clifford’s Bird, King), rise above viewer height (Strikly) and bracket from ground to floor (Bas-Besa).

The color choices are restrained—white, grey, blue, black, small accents of yellow—reinforcing the industrial source of inspiration or subject of comparison. This neutral look may be interpreted as a tough, unemotional stance or as a mute search for a syntax of forms. While hope opts for the former, a fuller showing of more pieces should settle this note of ambiguity.

DeWain Valentine also makes use of multi-part forms, groups of pairs and trios, adapting to rearrangement a prime fiberglass shape and utilizing varying colors and decorative motifs. One group of three stacked conical shapes, Candy Cones, stands like a set of sophisticated, magenta totemic landmarks, complemented by sweet and humorous barber pole striping at the top of each. The effect is complete, the painting and surface immaculate. A similar set of shapes reveals how remarkable can be the modifications. 3 Red becomes a dangerous group of projectiles, jutting as they do abruptly just below eye level from the wall.

Blue Tandem and Yo-Yo are matched pairs of disks, each a basic color, blended darker at the middle and edges. More alike and less spectacular, in fact rather dumb and amusingly inflated and seemingly usable, they still attest to the fruitfulness of Valentine’s method and imagination.

The overall effect—plastic molding of multiples, the recombinations, the excellent use of a wide range of qualities of enamel and lacquer spray colors—is synthetic and flashy. Valentine’s work has the spirit of sophisticated vulgarity, combining equal portions of auto body funky humanism with a verve for geometry. Bold and stylish, these characteristics may be seen to represent the whole commercial post-Pop scene of the mid-1960s.

Also included in this generous sampling of young talent were the lacquer spray panels of David Crum and the delicately tinted and toned reliefs and single wood sculpture of Nancy Gowans.

At the David Stuart Gallery, Tom Akawie’s masked and sprayed panels are based on graphic interpretations of architectural floorplans. Floating centrally upon a largish flat grey ground, the oval of San Andrea al Quirinale or the rectangles of Banz Abbey and Les Invalides produce strong black and white symmetrical icons of a complicated and at tractive order. The shapes’ interiors are broken into a delicate lace-like tracery of openings as side chapels, vestibules, ante-rooms, and interrupted by the solids of columns, platforms and stairs. Faint touches of color, gauzy and blended, soften the harsh contours.

In the placing of such a well designed flat diagram against so isolating a void, Akawie has cornered the best of several categories, blending his own brand of Art History-Pop-Geometry. The idea, results, and future of such a statement are problematically academic. A favorite, Banz Abbey suggests a departure to views of vaguely utilitarian or imaginary constructions of X-rayed objects.

The intimate, symmetrical format has remained relatively constant in Edie Danieli’s work. The multi-lobed and pointed top to a rectangular body suggests a fantastic construction, a head, a flower, a body. It is above all a field upon which several basic divisions of stripes have been arrayed, manipulated through theme and variation. The original design, derived from peasant art, with the Stella-like even accenting may be typified as a contemporary folk art.

Masked off, the colored ground of watercolor-textured stock is treated to a set of painted gradations; color is fundamental, treated expressively as it is systematically. The series involving primaries is lusciously full ranging, while some (greys on yellow, yellows on orange) are hard and matter of fact. The most unusual are the thalo mixtures (chartreuse to red, violet to red) which produce a Tiffany glass opalescence.

Sharon Dudley’s four untitled paintings are based upon combinations of three or four triangularly shaped canvases fitted edge to edge. Not redundant, but accumulative, the combinations are assertive in size, reticent in impact.

Two sets are treated in mute colors (olive, purple, grey) set off by a thin ochre hand. This line carries the implication of a slit of light buried beneath the heavier hermetic closures. Another pair are treated in more pure hues, which retain a passive, dulled tinge in memory, despite their original impact. Most interesting, a thin wedging line passes across two panels at an oblique angle and turns a sharp corner at the third. This not only repeats the stripe motif, but is here used as a perspectival device which reverses the normal left-to-right reading of the planes. Dudley consistently renders a three-dimensional tension, even warping, in the face of overwhelming flatness and color vibration.

The selection of plexiglass sculptures of Charles Ross suggests this is a period of transition. His columns, Multi-Colored, Bent and White, made up of cemented stacked pieces, demonstrate a flair for handsome refinement along the lines of smart interior decor. The lens and prism effects of the transparent constructed pieces are more intriguing. Geometric fabrications, filled with water, they reflect their environment, multiply and refract spectrum band edges to images seen beyond. As shapes, a columnar hexagon, a thin triangular column, a fairly broad triangular wedge, they are not particularly memorable. This despite their nature as clearly crystalline yet weighty solids. Their forms derive from the optical necessities, which is a less successful method than that of the Water Lens. The lens, with its convex faces and softened sail shape, is more personal an invention. Less easy to fabricate, less colorful in results, the lens points a direction to more visually rewarding and generous ends.

––Fidel A. Danieli