Los Angeles

Rico Lebrun

Silvan Simone Gallery

This large viewing of Lebrun’s early drawings is held together by the promise that it comprises work of the 1930–1945 period, yet no further documentation, or in some cases even dates, accompany this random selection of what has to be viewed as a “formative” period for an artist who was later to wield a significant influence on a certain generation of California artists. The possibility of groupings around specific interests, projects, or subjective “streams” is perhaps hampered by the nature of the artist’s life at that time, but this should not be an insurmountable task for any real partisan of the Lebrun ethic.

The exhibition presents some fifty drawings dating from the period 1930–1945, a period which encompasses Lebrun’s return to Italy and work at Orvieto, his living in New York and a mural commission, and finally his definitive move to California in 1938. The Italian pilgrimage shifted his early interest and skills in stained glass to the possibilities of mural and fresco. The large, softly modeled “Mirror Carrying a Dead One,” dated 1934, as well as “Woman with Lantern” of 1936, re-represent full-scale studies for mural commissions, one of which was executed for the New York City Post Office during this period. The small undated drawing fragment “Invention of Freedom,” seems to be of a later more graphically linear way of approaching a public mural style.

The surprises of this exhibition are the small pen and ink drawings, some of which measure only a few inches across. In these very quick, austere ramblings, such as the kneeling figures holding candles in the rain in a miniature mad processional, a spirit quite distinct from what is known of Lebrun asserts itself, as if the removal of scale and its accompanying flourish lays certain concerns of the artist naked to the bone. For what habitually dilutes the Expressionism of Lebrun, what drains the imagery of its authentic power, are two conditions that insinuate and underpin the bulk of his work, their juxtaposition and “acting ensemble” combining to cancel his powerful intentions. The first is an essentially “unfree” line, that can only describe other forms but cannot act as those forms. The second is a fastidious adherence to an over-all decorative principle that rushes toward conventional pictorial solutions, even amidst the havoc and horror of Buchenwald. Lebrun took upon himself a search for a formal mode that would embody his identification with human suffering. The problems this raised for him, from the standpoint of his experience and generation, leave many questions unanswered. He should be given a more coherent presentation on the West Coast by his supporters, so that the questions can at least be seen.

––Irving S. Petrin