Los Angeles

Donald Lagerberg

Jenet Gallery

Death, illusion, and paradox are themes of Donald Lagerberg’s art. Commonly such subjects are gaseous generalities barely disguising an artist’s endeavor to unnerve us. Such is not apparently the case in this artist’s first one-man exhibition. Lagerberg is a craftsman, an eclectic, and an intellectual. His terms are as concrete as are the terms of his admirations; Spanish mannerism, Northern baroque, Francis Bacon. His facets are unified by his emotional preoccupations.

Death is amply demonstrated in a memento mori after Hals’ “The Laughing Cavalier”; the insouciant mask of the face literally ripped away, a grinning skull in its place. The trite idea works because of the painting. Taken together Lagerberg’s works state his personal definition of death; Zurburan inspired still lifes contain oranges whose peel glistens feverishly, a raw roast palpitates in its case of waxy fat, cups transmigrate from pattern to shape to solid. Here are intoxicated celebrations of visual contact. A large self-portrait completes the definition; one eye is painted out. Death is not seeing.

If visual contact is Lagerberg’s assurance of life we understand his trompe l’oeil painting as philosophical speculation on the nature of reality. Since he cart trick vision while regarding sight as fundamental to reality, it is understandable that his imagery is paradoxical, his irony now witty, now brutal. Attaching a mannequin’s arms to a painting or slicing away its face to substitute a painted one, Lagerberg delights not only in his power as a prestidigitator but asks if life in the studio is not more real than life outside.

Such an artist, aware of interaction between internal and external reality, is the inheritor of such intense worriers as Bergman or Kierkegaard. He is also demonstrably aware of his art-historical situation, which seems to force a figurative artist to a defensive posture. In “Black Menina” he recreates Velasquez while painting for two-dimensional variety so technically accomplished as to answer any challenge to his modernity. Then, lest the Yahoos question his ability as an academic performer, he paints one hand out to fleshy dimension. Such pyrotechnics characterize a young artist anxious to demonstrate his abilities.

The complexities suggested by Lager-berg’s art are, however, resolved into clear and powerful imagery, just as his eclecticism is beyond the point of admiring pistache, existing rather as absorbed. Perhaps most telling is his “Seated Man” who grips his knees in an agony of restraint while a dimensional head strains forward behind the canvas. If the painting is to some extent Bacon, the head is distinctly Lagerberg, emerging.

William Wilson