Steven Criqui

Lemon Sky: Projects + Editions

It seems as though for the past few years Steven Criqui's goal has been to become the quintessential Los Angeles painter for the new millennium. If that sounds like a grandiose, even arrogant endeavor, it does seem to be going somewhere. I don't mean to suggest he is looking to win some sort of imagined contest, but rather that his project is at once a consideration of current languages and technologies in painting, photography, and digital imaging and an extended examination of the sorts of shapes, colors, images, events, and locations that define Los Angeles. The results—ranging from vaguely referential abstract paintings to variously altered photographs and collages—have been mixed. The multiples Criqui delivered in this show (all 2001), however, seem to offer a resolved synthesis of his varied pursuits: He “painted” on digital photographs using image-manipulation software and then printed them out on canvas and painted on them with oils.

Some of Criqui's images toe the cliché line with obvious, classic LA emblems (Johnie's Coffee Shop Restaurant, a favorite television- and movie-shoot location; an LAPD car in the California Donuts parking lot). Mostly, though, the artist seems to catch the stranger and subtler aspects of the city: its extreme horizontality, echoed by broad billboards hovering over strip malls lining boulevards traversed by streams of cars; the prevalence of modestly scaled mid-twentieth-century generic architecture accented with the occasional theme building; the liberal mingling of high and low culture; a sky that's most often bluish but rarely fully clear; a feeling that with the exception of a few glittering nightspots, this is a city that really does sleep; a sense that everything is always kind of mellow yet about to blow; and a certain ambiguity as to whether the angels for which the city is named are smiling down on the sprawl or preparing to wipe it out and start over.

Criqui makes the best of what the city has to offer him as an artist, delivering works that satisfy formally and offer astute social observations with an occasional bite. Untitled (J's 2), his image of Johnie's, is a next-generation nod to Ed Ruscha's gas stations and restaurants, but franker and less pop. The combination of shapes within the frame, simplified and enhanced by the artist, bears witness to the terrific compositions that result from the sort of stylistic and functional grafting that occur in any city but that gets amped up with the strange colors of LA, while the enhanced plays of light suggests a dull presence of the divine. The whole image becomes an odd meditation on the term “miracle mile,” used to describe the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard that Johnie's marks, and its varied sincere and sardonic associations. There is also something otherworldly about the glowing bays of a self-service car wash in another panel, and though the line between retribution and redemption is fuzzy, the implications of the dispensation of either or both is dear in Untitled (Cal Donut), a sunny mini-mall parking lot where a police car spontaneously combusts and tall, persistent weeds seem poised to take over the asphalt. Oddest, quietest, and most compelling is Untitled (Day Church), a sort of LA funk version of a European cathedral plopped next to a palm tree, a telephone pole, and a stucco house in a residential neighborhood. A little goes a long way here: The artist has inserted a pair of broad bright blue brushstrokes, layered on digitally and reiterated by hand, that enter the frame from above and below and curve at the ends as they meet smack in the middle of the church facade-hooking or intertwining, kissing or butting heads.

Christopher Miles