Los Angeles

Ian Falconer

Ian Falconer’s first solo show—consisting of 20 acrylic-on-canvas paintings, all framed in black and dated 1988—didn’t impart much besides an energetic freedom with paint and a taste for palatable colors, such as pistachio green, burnt orange, mauve, purple, and flesh. Executed in a loose style, the paintings are permeated with reverence for the work of Matisse, Picasso, and David Hockney (Falconer’s teacher). Falconer shares Hockney’s interest in depicting the reclining male nude, but the younger artist’s figures exude no sexual tension. Instead, they project a limited boyish charm and a great deal of languor; the figures seem poured or smeared into a permanent repose. Falconer renders feet with special interest: most are oversized, à la Picasso. Reclining Nude, View from Feet contains a nice wry touch—two actual paint-footprints appear on the canvas at the end of the nude’s foreshortened legs. Falconer’s models’ faces, unlike their feet, are not focal points. All slightly distorted, they’re so simplified they appear to be afterthoughts: nearly nonexistent in some paintings, blankly quizzical in others.

The one figure that gives off character and intensity is in a painting that differs markedly from the rest of those in the show. It’s a likeness of Henry Geldzahler (a frequent Hockney subject), in which Falconer employs garish color to suggest a complex personality. Geldzahler’s face and arms are clown-white; his nose, ear rims, temples, and cheeks are vibrant orange. The figure levels a riveting stare at the viewer with the eyes of a surprised infant in an aging face. It’s a half-frightened, half-challenging gaze that engages in a way none of the other faces—with their pin-prick eyes and wisps of features—possibly can.

Falconer is able to suggest volume competently and gracefully with a few strokes—bodies lounge, while striped upholstery sags under their weight. He likes to use squiggles and curlicues that call to mind doodling or even fingerpainting to suggest hair, surfaces, or to fill in backgrounds. This method, combined with the circusy colors Falconer prefers, gives these works a childlike look. Five paintings depicted high-ceilinged, uninhabited interiors. Although full of furniture, plants, and windows, the rooms seem to have no edges. The objects in them have been painted waveringly, as if seen underwater. In his two paintings of pianos, the figures’ loopy outlines and the sometimes swirly backgrounds come close to suggesting smoke or music in the air. There are a few scratches in the black paint of the piano’s legs or keyboards—half-hearted crosshatching.

All figures and forms in these paintings are subject to mild dislocations. If this is a form of cubism, it is a passive, softened version that possesses a touch of whimsy but lacks jaggedness or bite. This is art one hopes will pass through its current phase of emulation and develop a personality of its own.

Amy Gerstler