Los Angeles

Alicia Beach

Vielmetter Los Angeles

How do you get a gestural abstract painting to yield clean, precise hard edges? Just slice it up. That might sound glib, but it describes the simple logic at work in Alicia Beach’s recent projects.

Actually, rather than cut finished works into pieces, Beach paints on long, deep slats of birch plywood that are hung vertically with spaces between. While the stripes she brushes freehand along the faces of the slats are loose, she exploits one of the axioms of gestural painting—that fluid brushwork eventually hits the straight edge of the panel or canvas. Each work consists of a combination of the hard edges of the slats and stripes of intervening wall and a painterly surface, generating a strangely cohesive whole from the repetition of breaks and discontinuities in color, surface, and space, with the wall becoming as important as the slats. She often paints the sides of the slats as well, which cast hazy hued shadows on the abutting white wall; where two sides of different colors face, the reflection gradates between the hues in much the same way as the soft stripes merge on the slats’ fronts. Where the sides are left unpainted, they throw only a scant color reflection, which amplifies the sharp distinction between slat and backdrop; rather than contribute to the overall effect, the stripes of uninflected wall—stark white to shadowed gray, depending on the lighting—serve as sudden interruptions.

Beach complicates this formula by varying the width and depth of the slats, separating them by inconsistent intervals of space, and curving some of their surfaces, further obscuring the categories of front and side, center and periphery. Happily, she avoids Op-like games, say, of an image that breaks up into incoherence and then becomes another entirely as the viewer walks around it. Instead, Beach’s works are uninterruptedly changing before your eyes, always retaining the most part of what you saw before you took your last step. Careful choices of medium round out her arsenal of well-judged maneuvers: Jarring contrasts of color—pastels pitted against intense hues, warm tones suddenly immersed in cool—periodically interrupt expansive harmonies, and balanced compositions suddenly become unbalanced as you move around them. Meanwhile, shifts in paint quality, from matte to glossy to iridescent to metallic, alternately blur and emphasize the boundaries between physical form, applied pigment, and reflected light. Ultimately, dulling and sharpening, cutting and fading, seem to be core aspects of both the construction and the fluctuating appearance of Beach’s works.

Among alternately cryptic and straightforward titles like 4/17/00 (my piano) and Wood #I (all works 2000), one stands out as representative of the whole group: California. I can’t help but think of Beach’s art in relation to the Light and Space and finish-fetish preoccupations so connected to the region, but her works are hardly derivative; they seem carefully and independently conceived, inspired by these influences and a range of others, from Abstract Expressionism, post-painterly abstraction, and Hard Edge to Op, Minimalism, and even a bit of Pattern and Decoration. Who would have thought you could find all those elements together in one room (let alone in one work), that they could come together so seamlessly, without pastiche or a trace of irony, and that the result could be so engaging and fresh?

Beach has been a sleeper in a pack of Los Angeles painters who are revisiting these influences, but I have a feeling she just might outdistance most of them.

Christopher Miles