Los Angeles

Karen Carson

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

“Spiritual Vanities” is the name Karen Carson chose for this exhibit of paintings and smaller watercolors, but her titles, mostly derived from Disney songs, seem closer in spirit to the rhapsodic chromatic and spatial manipulations of these works. Carson’s exuberantly orchestrated acrylic-on-panel constructions are studded with pieces of Plexiglas mirror, usually arranged in concentric ripples, like shards from a shattered reflection. These are contraposed with radiations of paint that charge the works’ surfaces with explosive energy, but also, problematically, suggest a cause-and-effect reading for their fractured interior architecture.

The irregular edges of . . . makes no difference who you are, 1989, appear to have been jarred awry by the centrifugal force of a trio of brightly-colored paint bursts. These stellar images are each painted in a different manner—cartoonish squiggly rays spray-painted in the top left corner, a whirling red mandala of thick paint slightly left of center, and a vorticist emanation of bits of mirror in the middle of the field. The work’s right side is more darkly colored, a nocturnal array of painted pieces of moulding. Carson’s dramatic interplay of light and dark, illusion and object, and method and affect rescue the painting from the narrative bombast of its representational aspects.

This is not the case in Heavenly shades of night are falling, 1989, whose eight-pointed star includes tilted and overpainted picture mouldings to concretize its forceful illusion. Here again the right side of the picture is a complex arrangement of pieces of mirror and moulding coated with slatherings of black and gray, but the reading of that star-shape as a stylized burst of energy recasts the work as a depiction of an explosion in a shingle factory.

Carson is at her best when her paintings seem slightly delirious, disconnected from any singular interpretation of her retinue of formal effects. The artist’s paint handling is brashly casual, as is her carpentry. Yet both palette and structure are rigorously engaged, thus prompting the viewer’s interest in deciphering the complex pictorial spaces of the work. Who is the fairest one of all?, 1989, offers concentric ringlike pulsations in red, orange, and white that emerge from the picture’s center. This solar prominence is interrupted on the left by disruptive planes of cool greens and blues given form by borders of moulding; on the right, by a dark star of black and white paint intersticed with strips of mirror. Does the viewer’s skewed and slivered reflection seen there represent Snow White or her wicked stepmother?

Buzz Spector