Los Angeles

Irving Petlin

Rolf Nelson Gallery

The major work is a mural size, four-part painting (arranged like an inverted “T”) entitled The Kennedy Civic. The overwhelming impression is of a Futurist textural field confounding the hidden subject matter. The descriptive elements, figures arrayed frieze-like before a landscape with clouds above, are first divided into slipped and arbitrary horizontal registers, the paint then stroked in a blurring fashion. The predominant color, yellow-orange, is particularly sharp and nasty, set off as it is by smears and touches of black, white, blue and red. Forms are folded back and lost, padded and embroidered, pushed to the surface and framed by a painted suggestion of stretcher bars and corner braces. The effect is rather like viewing the reversed facade of a tapestry; dry, absorbent, and in the same spirit a complex, highly altered tracery. One wonders at the social commentary implied by the title (and a previous sketch), especially as the activation simply teases and camouflages the figuration. The result is genuinely graphic and unusual, but also tediously puzzling. Where so much technical manipulation is imposed there seems little more than a search for mystifying “style”; that or an explanatory exposition by the artist may be necessary.

The smaller works, colored drawings and paintings appear more direct, delicate and absolute. Various views relating to combustion about a “little box of earth” move Petlin into a visionary camp. Here the biomorphic forms are developed in quite a sure, fresh, and pleasantly decorative way.

Fidel A. Danieli