Los Angeles

Donald Lewallen

Ceeje Gallery

This debut one-man showing was more than usually marked by characteristics exposing the artist in a state of search. The search, in this case, is less bent on finding ways and means than in plumbing for a coherent view of the self.

Lewallen has means in hand. There is no question that he can draw, compose and color. The mechanism is complete, the question is where to drive it. The exhibition steered various directions. One group of work mounted cut-up dolls on boards along with other bits of flotsam. The whole, painted grey, made odd effects of atmosphere and soft powdery drawing, creating emotional overtones equally tender and violent. A second group, which came off sadly, combined isolated images—flower, eggbeater and sexy bi-valve—into an experiment with tough, consciously objectionable poses. Then came a series of stuffed birds mounted, one each on colored backgrounds. The birds finally lose all possibility of flight or distinction as they melt, like camouflaged planes, into their environment. In a final group, markedly superior to the preceding ones, a series of painted butterflies progressed from brightly colored recognizable images to diffuse black and white pieces in which the insect has vanished into pure pattern—echoing the message of the bird series.

A strong conviction that these shifts are dictated not only by technical experimentation but also by biographical pressures, hangs about the production. For all the diffusion of this work it is united by a growing sense of refinement. It seeps through the bright-plumaged birds—masculine symbol, free and self-indulgent. It is signaled by the butterfly—beloved of Whistler and the French Symbolist poets during a time that appreciated the positive values of dandyism.

William Wilson