Los Angeles

Paul Wonner

David Stuart Gallery

Wonner’s primary subjects are the California landscape (seen with an All-Year Club solar enthusiasm) or domestic interiors with randomly placed models, occasional sunny windows, and a sporadic display of household objects; in both categories the temper is halcyon, and, in the domestic scenes, the vision is intimist. Associated with the “Bay Area Figuratives,” Wonner has their taste for juicy paint, but applies his varnished impasto with Parisian restraint rather than New York fury. Though Wonner exploits “paint quality,” one never feels in these canvases, as for example in David Park’s work, a conflict of interest between pure paint and image, since paint is always subordinate to configuration and there is no disruptive undercurrent of gestural ebullience. His compositions, by and large structured planally, have the anachronistic flavor of an indulgent refusal to confront any of the formal (spatial) issues proposed by the art of our time. Wonner’s intelligent, if slick, command of the convention of “delight in disorder,” or a contrived carelessness of composition (belied by fairly tight abstract structure) is apparent in such interiors as the “Model Drinking Coffee,” the “Living Room, Malibu,” and the “Model and Coffee Table.” In these paintings he treats the figure with an assumed and aggressive indifference (e.g., casually cutting off the top of a head, partially obscuring a man with a lamp, almost losing a figure in the darkly furnished clutter of a room) and instead puts compositional emphasis on a blue green chair, the vertical line of a door, or the summer brilliance of a window. Both his interior scenes and his landscapes share an askew, Dégas-like, offbeat angle of vision. This somehow results in a quality of modesty: of glanced-at rooms, of uninvaded psyches, of beaches seen out of the corner of the eye, of canyons barely noted from above. All these characteristics combined might add up to a cool, mild-mannered virtuosity, a sober comment on volatile stances and an assertion of the civilized, if retrogressive, values of quietism. But Wonner’s paintings make no such statement. Instead, he completely vitiates their possible temperate force by a clumsy and sentimental handling of color; the saccharine banalities of mustard yellow, sea blue, and icing white in such landscapes as the “View of Malibu” or the “Parking Lot” make them seem like chic decorator items, destined to go with a “gold” rug or a pink princess phone. The interiors are better, and there are even some subtle explorations in the grey ranges, invariably, however, punctured by a too-vivid green or an over-excited blue precisely where one hopes for reticence.

Nancy Marmer