Los Angeles

Robert Ackerman

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

A vital and long-lived tradition of reductive abstract painting has existed in Los Angeles since the ’50s, though it has seldom attracted national attention. John McLaughlin is perhaps its most distinguished founding father, and his work has been widely appreciated by young Los Angeles painters. Robert Ackerman’s work is rooted in this tradition of reductive abstraction, but it is much too sensuous, too physical and open to tonal variation and antigeometric curves to be a strict interpretation of the reductivist canon.

In his second one-man show, Ackerman gives evidence of a maturity and complexity unexpected in the debut of a young painter. This was a small show of four large canvases, dark, multilayered, shadowy fields of warm black and brown with undercurrents of grayed ocher. They have the somber intensity and sense of wholeness that have been constant in Ackerman’s work over the past few years, but these paintings are more open, with layers of soft, cloudy calligraphy showing through opaque, scumbled surfaces. They are closer to the darkened dramatic works of Clyfford Still than they are to Minimalism or color-field painting.

Ackerman clearly knows the difference between the painting-as-object and the painting as lyrical metaphor, now opting strongly for the latter. His titles refer to the story of Jekyll and Hyde, involving reversals of emotion and image which are perhaps convenient literary devices. More impressive and appropriate to these shadowy, forceful works are two of their subtitles—Desaparecido (Disappeared) and Desconocido (Unknown), which refer to the political murders in El Salvador, the untold thousands who have disappeared and their faceless hunters, unknown and unaccountable. Ackerman’s paintings live on their own but these subtitles confirm the viewer’s experience of confinement amidst a vast darkened space, swift-paced movement sensed but only partially seen, and a pounding of the heart in the presence of nameless terror.

Susan C. Larsen