Los Angeles

Tom Wudl

L.A. Louver Gallery

The overtly symbolic yet highly personal paintings of Tom Wudl speak of the artist’s long-standing study and practice of Buddhist meditation. To his credit Wudl does not set his imagery adrift on the vague, cloudy kind of structure often associated with Western devotees of such practices. The best of his work employs a raw, stark, emblematic iconography updating certain terrifying and horrific aspects of visionary Buddhist art. His imagery seems entirely personal, as though it were derived from first-hand observation.

The image of a nude young woman appears again and again in these paintings, standing on a light-filled field established by darting blue, silver-white, and gold sparks bursting through a shadowy plane. She would be carefree and sylphlike except that her body is marked by a strange amoeboid shape, a recurring form of Wudl’s which suggests a watery, moving shadow seen in a trance state.

This idiosyncratic and powerful work is presented with an almost embarrassing degree of candor and self-revelation. Wudl’s painting of a disembodied human heart adrift on a field of bright green resists medical and sentimental readings, retaining the disturbing clarity of a dream image recalled out of context by day. At times his closely observed yet somewhat softened and abstracted rendering creates unusually effective levels of illusion and depth—his Buddhist guardian figure, for example, half-hidden behind a misty blue curtain of pigment framed by a blood-red border.

Wudl has employed much of this imagery in other work over the past few years but in a more hermetic, less communicative way. His work speaks more directly now, although it is still veiled in symbol and refers to private experiences derived from remote and esoteric traditions. Raw and unlovely at times, it never descends to the level of decor or becomes an ironic, self-cancelling tautology. To derive both imagery and style from the central concerns of one’s life seems a worthy ambition; it may not be a smart course but it is perhaps a wise one.

Susan C. Larsen