Los Angeles

Lari Pittman

From across the room, it looked as though two perfect sunny-side-up eggs were stuck to the face of a painting in Lari Pittman’s recent exhibition. Closer inspection revealed them to be painted on, in something between a flat, graphic style (the differing shapes of the two egg whites made by flipping the same stencil over) and an attempt at spatial illusionism, with a waft of shading hinting at the contour of each yolk. This stylistic and spatial play—continuing in the way the eggs assert the surface and artifice of the underlying painting, which depicts in illusionistic depth a hyperstylized and surreal realm—is typical of the work in this show. And, as if fried on the canvas, the eggs seem to indicate the temperature of the depicted hothouse world, in which giant overripe fruit strains its vine to the breaking point while morphing into the buttocks of disembodied legs squishing their dandy shoes into adjacent squash.

This is one example of the interweaving of style, tenor, and form that defines the ten untitled paintings here. Executed in acrylic, vinyl, and lacquer on canvas stretched over wood panels, these works further the play of transparence and fluid brushwork present in other of Pittman’s recent works, but take both to a higher level, resulting in compositions in which components seem to glisten, sweat, or dissolve. The images may be divided into two groups, one prickly in both image and mood, populated by cacti and bristling with highkeyed decorative motifs, the other overripe, packed, and burgeoning. Several of the paintings present manic, fractured, and reshuffled landscapes or garden scenes peppered with human accoutrements. In one, kneepad-clad phantoms that manage to be simultaneously sexed-up and sexually ambiguous sport amputated limbs in the apparent aftermath of perverse violence. Meanwhile, seemingly abstract and decorative calligraphic passages begin to read as signifiers of organic life.

Such almost indigestible pileups of the luscious, the irritating, the terrible, and the strange have turned up before in Pittman’s work, but never with this degree of intensity. In this respect, they call to mind Max Beckmann’s paintings of menacing man-beasts and amputees, bound together in a claustrophobic space. The kinship with Beckmann ultimately is as much a matter of attitude as that of formal devices or imagery. Even in the exhibition’s seventeen more playful, less congested works on paper, there is no doubt that Pittman has turned to a darker place, and is sounding it with as shrill a voice as he has ever mustered. Curiously, it is Pittman’s use of framing and cropping—he incorporates actual painted borders into some compositions—to create scenes in which everything seems to hedge, corral, squeeze, and fracture everything else that most effectively raises the pulse of these paintings. Though compositional complexity has long been a hallmark of Pittman’s practice, here the implications of pushing that complexity to such dizzying heights became fully apparent.

Christopher Miles