Los Angeles

Hassel Smith

David Stuart Gallery

First there are the unsettling figurative paintings. The heralded “All American Girl” seemed to represent an ambitious and adequate departure, but an untitled nude not previously exhibited was treated in barely summary fashion. “Leda and the Swan” proves only that together his active contour line and color shape edges are redundant. A Rubens-like “Lovers,” painted in England, inexplicably included a diapered cupid and a panting, spotted dog, and at best, they all confirm a boisterous good humor found in certain previous works. That, or the shuttering and grating falter of a reappraisal.

The figurative experiences, viewed in retrospect on his recent return from Europe would seem to have driven him further (literally) into the open field of his previous non-objective style. And he is stronger. Gone is the sly good performance in paddle-whipped textural activity or the firm hand-hold on landscape reference. Now broad sheets of color, spreading from edge to edge, are pierced by large or multiple rents punched through to dark holes in random, spinning compositions. His non-natural color is stronger, intensified, and a material made of sterner stuff; the surfaces and speed of stroke more varied but kept at a hectic pace. The flopsy-doodle line is minimized to a scarring series of “L” angle thrusts and double arc links that ride and carve the planes.

They are as individually varied and determined as many of the past, and stake out new claims in his suave but tough expressionist mode. A crisis of doubts has yielded up a vengeful and disquieting turbulence, and it may be best to wait to see the full fruits of this redirected affirmation.

Fidel A. Danieli