Los Angeles

James Jarvaise

Felix Landau Gallery

Jarvaise’s recent Spanish works deal almost exclusively with the figure—in spite of himself, it would appear. For he raises the question of how many ways a head may be staged while maintaining a mute detachment from the model and preserving “purer” pictorial concerns. First, dehumanize its existence in a series of blunt two-value planes or dissolve it in a run of slippery pigment, then turn it profile, flatten it and create a black silhouette, and the final move, turn it about to a “profil perdu.” Hands, should the occasion arise, are to be treated in swift fluttering masses.

The majority, a single head and shoulders, or a trimmed three-quarters length, are such generalizations of the model, pressed close-up (a favorite device of Goya—exposing the doll-like innocence or shallowness of his sitters) before as thin and arbitrarily equivocal a space. Other looming heads simply block off the landscape release. Jarvaise, with sure swerving application, usually desists from additional development at the point when a recognizable image has been traced from an abstract sense of design, scarcely individualized, and fixed by a nominal outline. Playing for maximum effect he bounds his dark figures with a jarring red-orange; but in a few, Girl Sewing, Boy Sleeping at Table, and Man from Toledo #3, he is carried over into a traditional genre vein and completes an environment of claustrophobic afternoon light and heat. Cardinal of Tavera and Man Looking at Fountain contain the ingredients of becoming predatory stalking symbols or presentiments of voyeurism which recall the confrontations of early Munch, Bacon, and Oliveira. The fountain and balcony viewers bear an uncanny and unshakable resemblance to the pluckish thick-necked monsters of Charles Addams. Jarvaise has preferred not to explore the grotesque potential of even these situations, and leaves instead a residue of melodramatic and surface suspension. They are paintings easily arrived at, which raise implications and expectations.

Fidel A. Danieli