Los Angeles

James Strombotne

David Stuart Gallery

An image maker of some power, who in his new show of paintings and small bronzes, withdraws ever more from formal delectation.

Allowing not even a clear flatness of form to assert itself, Strombotne propels his figural idea into consciousness, making a leap, so to speak, at the viewer from an expanse of canvas that is barely perturbed. In some instances the painting consists of a line drawing in black oil on a scumbled single color wash, as in “King Farouk’s Morning Walk.” The paintings divide at a certain point into two distinct modes. The predominant one is an almost flat, opaque, frozen-photo kind of portraiture, as in “Self Portrait as a Nudist,” “Self Portait . . . the King,” “The Ladies of the Rue . . . ” The other mode is the more violently expressed open-contoured and paint-scumbled drawn images, such as the “K K K Execution” and “The Saga of Love.” “Picnic on the Grass #4” is a formal synthesis of these two modes in the service of repainting the well-known Manet. Six small unique state lost wax bronzes are also shown. With the exception of the geometrically reduced portrait of “Dr. Strangelove,” they are all variously allegorical and baroque, twisting and spiraling settings for small figure plays. These small pieces very much represent first “moves” into sculptural tradition. The more compelling canvases are those which offer much more of a “trial” for his imagery.

The large “Crucifixion with Bathers,” “Picnic on the Grass #4.” “The Naked Artist,” all make use of a pictorial staging with many internal shifts in figural and spatial proportion. The near-to-far monumentality and diminution of figure in the “Crucifixion with Bathers,” with its middle zone figures, is somewhat like the projection of cinema-scale life onto a pictorial event. This is also true in “The Naked Artist,” in which the artist is seen standing with his pants down, in solitary defense of a monumentally scaled “screen” world of erotic delight against the brute pig forces in society who would destroy him. This is a remarkable picture. The thematic range of these paintings is, as the artist declares in his forward to the exhibition, “. . . fantasy, to portraiture, to lovemaking, to political comment.” The artist “present,” as it were, everywhere in the central concerns of the modern human condition.

Irving B. Petlin