Los Angeles

Tom Wudl

Riko Mizuno Gallery

Over the last several years Tom Wudl has slipped from gold-leafed grids to punch-holes; to punch-holes with little goodies, to punch-holes with colorful conglomerates of triangles and circles, to these, his latest, a synthesis of them all. Through it all Wudl is praised as one of the best-looking painters in the area and damned (lightly) as chicly decorative; I agree with that, save to say this exhibition proves him even a better “natural” painter than heretofore estimated and not so much a decorator as previously supposed. To be sure, he treads the stepping-stones-to-success of a whole stratum of L.A. artists: visual-manufacturing gimmick (punch-holes and gold-leafing), tricky optics (white wall showing through the holes and the moiré mandala patterns), perfumy color, and a light, deft touch with materials. The biggest painting is a tour de force including a wispy blue “sky,” daringly dark corners, a big red spiral zooming into the center, and a whole buncha boxes, moons, stars, etc., which ends up a cross between the best of Persian miniatures and Ron Davis. But Wudl is admirable for a number of reasons: he pushes forward by complicating his work, not reducing it; he takes tacky-delicious devices and fully legitimizes them within “serious” painting; and he’s not afraid of arbitrariness or full color, although a couple of the dark brown and olde golde mandalas start looking like smart restaurant accents. The installation is intelligently sparse, taking advantage of Mizuno’s clean box and avoiding the boutique specter. Since Wudl is an abstract painter, and since there’s a tremendous pressure on abstract painting to “say something” about the nature of painting itself, he invites contrasting with the au courant Marden-esque esthetic of bludgeoning painting into sheets of GI green then nursing the bruises back to formal relevance. Whereas the nitty-gritty painters seem to hold that feasting the eyes is a corruption to be shackled in favor of food for the mind, Wudl seems to feel—along with Bengston, and Davis—that visual banquets are what painting serves best, and thereby lies its future. It’s a difficult question. Good thing the best art always wins out.

Peter Plagens