Los Angeles

Rick Stitch

L. A. Louver

Without falling into cliché and seemingly without guile, Rick Stich makes Impressionist-inspired paintings—primarily still lifes and landscapes—that are remarkably fresh. Stich prevents the work from becoming mere imitation by using a highly personalized brushstroke and, on occasion, by creating a kind of penetrating perspectival depth. A small tempera-on-silk entitled Reflection: Pond, 1986, seems at first like a too-direct quote from Monet but, on closer examination, the work conveys a welcome tension between pure surface and illusion.

Stich’s paintings tend to be small and intimate, and their subject matter is usually incidental—no people, just pretty pictures. As such, the work calls to mind the colorful still lifes of Matisse. Stich is at his best when he makes work that looks like it was tossed off quickly. Turtles on Rocks, 1988, is one of the most intriguing works in the show. The color is washed on thinly, layered blue on top of a green ground, to define a body of water, and the turtles are so casually blocked out that they barely hold together. Just a few dabs of white pigment and a few of a murky forest green define the animals’ shapes, yet Stich gives these sketchy forms a sense of movement and vitality. He is both fluid in style and sensitive to details. Stich often employs fine materials; in addition to painting on silk, he uses fine handmade rice paper as a ground for the temperas, and the lines of the paper add to the rippling effect when he depicts water. In Five Koi, 1988, the paper’s texture seems to flicker on the surface.

The larger canvases are the least interesting of Stich’s output. Here the artist’s style seemed stiff and overextended. Spontaneity appears to be his strength, and that proves harder to achieve when the canvas is larger than human scale. None of the pictures here seems designed to provoke any social or intellectual debate. Decidedly conservative in tone, they seem to celebrate their art-historical heritage. The paintings do not appear to have been labored over or struggled with, but rather show an open sense of renewal. Stich shares a certain affinity with David Hockney, in his pursuit of effervescence for its own sake and in his quick, sure draftsmanship. One room of the gallery here was covered, salon-style, with small tempera-on-paper studies, much like a recent installation of Hockney’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This mass of pictures cumulatively created an easy rhythm, as well as an almost childlike sense of joy.

Susan Freudenheim