Los Angeles

Charles Garabedian

Ceeje Gallery

The painter shows 20 canvases, mostly small and meticulous, dating from 1963 to the present. The surface look of a primitive, or even an amateur, while very apparent, begins to dissolve upon even a little reflection. The picture-making devices are too complex, and innocence never triumphs in these works. Rather, a whole set of art historical origins emerge, most of which are pre-Cubist. There is a spread· ing of interest that can include the early Northern and Southern European Renaissance as in “Saint Francis at Lake Arrowhead” and “Christ Under the Off-Ramp,” as well as 1930s public mural style as in “Dana Goldman.” The welder figure in this latter work so heroically fills the bursting rectangle as to become a kind of worker-icon. There is, in a few instances, a concession to the idea of the painting as object, as some of the frames become an extension of the image, extending the delicate awkwardness outward. The elaborate game of first concealing and then revealing insight, information, and sensibility about paintings and periods is part of the Garabedian love-hate relationship to tradition itself. This is never resolved and is a continuous “edge” that tenses almost all the works shown. This internal self-thwarting can be crucial to understanding a work such as “Jean Harlow,” the largest and most unsettling painting shown. The waxen Harlow lies back, settled into a rising hillside dotted with half opened clamshaped rocks which quietly echo her eyelids just opening like the dawn itself. A limpid Gothic sex-queen in the first stirrings of the half light. The awkward elongated grace, the calculated “bad” drawing and the color that generally accompanies it all matched in a duel to make the maximum number of “wrong” moves and still read “beautiful!” If anything can characterize the motivating principles of the artist, it is precisely that these paintings have as their subject, “a lack of ambition,” as we have come to understand it in the 20th century modern tradition. If they have made alliances it is with those contemporary impulses which favor anti-art solutions, notwithstanding the unwillingness and unease with which this alliance has been made.

Irving B. Petlin