Los Angeles

David Korty

Kohn Gallery

An adroit stylist, David Korty continued to pursue the washed-out, streamlined neo-Fauvism that defined his last show at Michael Kohn Gallery. The results, all produced in the past year and based on photographs the artist takes himself, are lovely enough—unmistakably of an able hand, a keen sense for color and design, and an eye for isolating images from the fray of the world—laid out in gouache and collage on paper, or in pencil and oil on canvas, sometimes with additions of wax and more collage.

Throughout the exhibition, Korty dealt up witty play between abstraction and representation. Women with Yellow Table, 2010, for instance, exploits a bird’s-eye perspective to generate what is largely a geometric abstraction from a scene of two women, both pushed to the composition’s periphery, assembling triangular and trapezoidal puzzle pieces on a bright yellow tabletop. And in works such as Paul with Guitar, 2009—a modern-day variation on the old masters’ lute player—one can see how Korty’s approach to line, which is not about generalization but about trying to capture essence, isolates the visual particulars of this moment and scene, in this case tracing the way the side seam of stretch-denim jeans delineates the contour of a human leg.

Korty’s documentation of the contemporary scene might bring to mind Baudelaire’s vision of Constantin Guys, the unsung artist who inspired the poet/critic to write “The Painter of Modern Life.” The individual prowling modern urban society and then stealing back to his studio, frantically trying to sketch out some sense of his world by lamplight, is here replaced by a vision of the artist roaming with a point-and-shoot, and then chilling in his studio, dragging and dropping his way toward compositions. (The compositions were further developed by hand in studies that made up a substantial part of this exhibition.) As much as Korty’s paintings engage the viewer with their short-story-narrative currency, as much as they please the eye with their unabashed prettiness, their coolness keeps one at arm’s length. And while one might not blink at the stubborn consistency of some artists’ practices in relation to the shifts within the world around them, it’s hard not to wonder how long an artist like Korty, who seems bent on having a finger on the pulse, can continue to look at the world around him and deliver work in a vein that seems so hip, nice, and glass-half-full.

But for all the stylistic continuity, one nevertheless detects a subtle sense of alienation in these works, a loneliness and detachment that began to surface in Korty’s last show at Kohn. Paintings such as Man Looking Left, 2009, take up the preoccupation with drinkers and catatonic loners among artists of Baudelaire’s age—an apt concern for our sobering present. Even more interesting here is Korty’s turn toward imagery that offers a more abrupt confrontation with the banal, such as his mug-shot-like dead-on views of a gas pump or a television set, or an inkling of the bizarre, as with a portrait of a woman in a cat mask. And equally exciting are instances in which Korty’s choice and handling of imagery push the paintings’ capacity for metaphor, as in the case of a picture of a table covered with drawings that congeal into so much clutter, and a scene, titled Figures with Water, 2010, depicting cars and people who, though oddly calm, appear caught in waist-deep floodwater. In these pieces, Korty tips a hand one hopes to see played in his future work.

Christopher Miles