Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Accidentally On Purpose

Allison Miller, Bed, 2016, Oil, oil stick, acrylic and collage on two canvases 113 x 93 inches overall, 56.5 x 93 inches each. Photo by Jason Ramos 

Splotches, squiggles, stripes, deckle edges. The namable things in Allison Miller’s paintings exist just over and under the threshold of identifiable, representational imagery. Each of the decisions documented on her canvases are paradoxically imbued with both intuitive investigation and methodical consideration. Individually and as a whole, the works in her first solo exhibition at the Pit in Glendale, Screen Jaw Door Arch Prism Corner Bedassert an internal visual logic that defies immediate verbal articulation. However, the presence of the squiggles, grids and framing devices open her language up enough to prevent a completely hermetic system. Bold and graphic declarations of color, shape, and composition give some of the canvases, like Corner, Jaw, and Bed a flag or banner-like feel.

Jaw, 2016, Oil, acrylic, and collage on canvas,
 60 x 52. 5 inches.
Photo by Jason Ramos
Door, 2015, Oil, oil stick, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas.
Photo by Jason Ramos

The squiggles are accompanied by a bold black stroke of paint and dual, taped-off "less-than" mathematical signs in the largest work of Miller’s to date, Bed. The work is a double decker stacked diptych that commands the entire back wall of the Pit’s next door gallery, the Pit II. Just like her imagery, Bed stands within an in between space, this time between painting and installation. The perspective of the room amplifies the visual destination of the canvases themselves, the angles along the floor and ceiling aligning with the sharp, sideways double-V signs, in turn reiterated by the freehand marks adjacent to them. Passages that seem dictated by controlled accident or chance subsequently reveal specific, conscious addressing of the drips, smears, and cover-ups upon closer reading. Isolated drips in the painting entitled Jar seem surrounded by force fields deflecting a spray of black and pink misted paint. Points of contact between red and green bacon-strips of paint on the left side of Drag Arch are emphasized with dark strokes that seem copied and pasted from the right side of the painting, where they are gathered together within a bright yellow trapezoidal field. Further inspection of the yellow patch recursively uncovers what could be more of those bacon strips on a microscopic scale, or perhaps very far away.

Screen, 2016 (detail)
Jaw, 2016 (detail)

Some of the moves, such as the aforementioned force-fielded marks, sideways V’s, and dark strands and squiggles, have occurred enough in her previous recent work to indicate an idiosyncratic lexicon going back to at least 2007. Denser, fussier compositions from the aughts have now given way to more open fields and a bolder, more striking juggle of higher-key hues. Light-valued grounds in a lot of the earlier work situated them within a drawing context that the work of Screen Jaw Door Arch Prism Corner Bed transcends with a more painterly all-over consideration of the format. Foregrounded linear elements still serve to organize and activate some of the compositions, such as in Bed, Screen, and Door, but in others, they now serve to accent and contrast the fields of color and shape, as in Prism, Corner, Drag Arch, and Jaw. All of this adds up to a slow, satisfying distillation of an abstract language that flirts with hipster nonchalance, but only upon first glance. Sustained viewing is rewarded by unexpected formal revelations in each work. These revelations make Miller’s decision and process available to the viewer, and invite a deeper kind of seeing and use of simple, abstract elements. 

Drag Arch, 2016, Oil, oil stick, acrylic, and pencil on canvas 60 x 58 inches. Photo credit: The Pit, Glendale, CA

Screen, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches. Photo by Jason Ramos

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hand–Eye Coordination

If there's an odd familiarity to this installation it’s probably because Holy Mountain was an influence, as it mentions in the exhibition statement. Transforming the space by activating the floor is in Polly Apfelbaum’s wheelhouse, but in Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes, Apfelbaum deftly activates the perimeter and other parts of the space as well. Bold, primary, formal choices dominate overall, such as the stripe which frames a diverse series of wall mounted ceramic pieces. These eccentrically shaped ceramic paintings contribute multiple layers of contrast and linkage throughout the installation. The rough, intimate, individual quality of the ceramic pieces pop against the immaculately designed hard-edged environment. This also connects and contrasts the hand-woven floor pieces designed and produced by Apfelbaum with weavers from Oaxaca, Mexico. The back and forth is amplified by the handmade ceramic beads suspended over the rugs. Each bead seems indistinguishable from one another until closer inspection reveals the unique, organic form of each one.

The ceramic paintings presented here highlight an intersection of ceramics and painting that is a recurring interest in the current moment. Allison SchulnickMary HillRy Rocklen, among others have made use of clay’s materiality, presence, indexicality, and evidence of the hand to present objects that have undeniably painterly qualities. Apfelbaum’s wall mounted pieces read as shaped abstract works, faces, paint palettes, open books, plates, dishes, personal pan pizzas and more. The extensive sampling of these particular, tactile, craggy, bubbly, expressive works give viewers an opportunity for detailed, close-up looking. Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes as a whole is best taken in from wide angles, and the arrangement of rugs encourages this vantage point as viewers are forced to the perimeter (though there is the option of walking on the rugs with booties). 

The wooden wall pieces mounted in the back area come up a bit short. They are almost invisible from the entrance, blending in with the deep red background they're set against. Upon discovery it’s easy to see their formal and conceptual links to both the ceramic paintings and the rugs, as well as the satisfying level of craft they embody. Though their camouflaged placement within the gallery also gives them the feeling of being tacked on, like an afterthought.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Groupthink pt. 2

Maja Ruznic
The Wind Was Not Behind His Back, So the Finger Trees 
Took It Upon Themselves to Propel the Fella Forward, 2016 
Scott Anderson, Room For Voodoo, 2015

Conveniently next door to LA Louver in Venice, Phantom Limb at Shulamit Nazarian explodes with color and strangeness. Similar to Olimipia’s Eyes at Zevitas Marcus, this exhibition benefits from a focus on the figure, despite a touch of aesthetic homogeneity. There is clear affinity between Scott Anderson’s neo-Fauvist canvases and Maja Ruznic’s fluid, feverish visions. Both artists’ work gush with seductive jolts of contrast, hue and figurative suggestion. Glimpses into Trenton Doyle Hancock’s dense intricate world augment notions of the figure ascending to the status of character. These notions are followed through with the illustrative pictures of Wendell Gladstone. The slick literalness of Gladstone’s canvases perhaps closes the figure-character gap too much, considering the formal ambiguity present in the rest of the exhibition. May Wilson’s simple and affecting sculptures stand on the precipice of a kind of intriguing liminal anthropomorphizing. The lines and gestures of each piece read as limbs and stances, ciphers for uncanny, alien presence.

We Like Explosions, at The Pit
The exhibition We Like Explosions at the Pit in Glendale finds the space completing another stage of its evolution into an artist-initiated and run commercial gallery space. Since the Pit’s inception, the curatorial eye of artist-owners Adam Miller and Devon Oder cuts like a laser beam with frequently arresting, energetic exhibitions. Of note in We Like Explosions are two canvases by the frequently copied but rarely matched Allison Miller. Both paintings reveal passages of simply phrased and nuanced space. In Head/Edge, repeated clouds of hair lazily drift over line work that manages to carve sharp contrasts of depth despite the casualness of the marks and deliberate highlighting of the edges of the canvas. In the painting Calendar, the repeated elements are arrayed among a complex hierarchy of spatial layers that dazzle the eye and brain with impossible patterns and illusion. Sculptural wall pieces by Erik Frydenborg, Nick Kramer and Nora Shields extrude their formal presence toward the viewer for effects that alternate between sensuous and tactile.

Uncommon Ground at FOCA
Tucked away upstairs in a Chinatown plaza, the Fellows of Contemporary Art maintain a space that currently features Uncommon Ground, curated by Kate Whitlock. All of the works in the exhibition extend into different kinds of spaces – physical, pictorial, and the literal space of language, as the curatorial concept finds artists responding to each other’s studio practice to “familiarize themselves with each other’s body of work as it pertains to the alphabet.” This simple connecting thread results in a subtle formal link that unites the work to positive effect while maintaining the integrity of the different object-based strategies, preventing it all from seeming like the same artist. Molly Larkey’s precise painting armatures extend from the wall carving voids out of the viewer’s physical space and appear to be trying to make contact with the arch form of Julia Haft-Candell’s Arches blob in blue and burgundy. This kind of tight physical echoing occurs on scales big and small. The subtle bits of applied paint on the linen of Larkey’s The Not Yet pieces seem to be blown-up and magnified in Lindsay August-Salazar's large abstracts on burlap. August-Salazar’s pictogram entitled works provide bolder contrasts and sharpness that complement the pastel haze of the rest of the exhibition, with Feodor Voronov’s powerful abstract cluster serving as an aesthetic bridge. Voronov wisely jumbles the work’s title within the composition beyond legibility, allowing the painting to be read over the hidden word.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

David Brenner

Jason Ramos, David Brenner, 2016, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches (61 x 91.5 cm)
I can't recall my earliest memory of David Brenner, but I knew he'd been around for a while. Every clip he was all lapels, gold chains, and big hair, firmly placing him in the 70's. It was obvious from his age and the reverence toward him that he was the primary influence on a style of observational humor that eventually came to be identified with and popularly epitomized by Jerry Seinfeld. Brenner's heyday was right around when I was born; his 158 appearances on and guest hosting of Carson's Tonight Show made him a household name and presence back then. When I was a bit older in the 90's, I was able to glean that he had been taking a long break from showbiz to deal with a child custody issue. I distinctly remember his comeback stand-up special on HBO in 2000, with its Goodfellas style promo. As I recall he went on stage with a copy of USA Today and improvised jokes from the headlines. I also remember he got married again on stage at the end. My favorite David Brenner joke goes something like, "I hear they're making a pill to cure gambling addiction – c'mon, what are the odds?"

Monday, August 15, 2016


Perfect Day at Roberts and Tilton
A canoe, courtesy of Martin Durazo, in the middle of the main room of Perfect Day at Roberts and Tilton, immediately makes the exhibition feel like a journey. First stop are the dense collage swatches of Stanley Bell. Among bits of architectural imagery weaving ripples of background and foreground together within a circus of figurative debris, I recognize an image of comic book character the Vision, from Avengers #58 (1968) – “Even An Android Can Cry”. It’s probably from a reprint because it’s in black and white.  A painting by Ohad Sarfaty feels like a Neo Rauch if Neo Rauch replaced his cold war references with contemporary racial justice references. Deft patchwork portraits by Tschabalala Self declare specific identities, resonant in their use of collaged pattern, texture, shape and mark. His Supercluster Cosmic Remnant by Lisa C Soto reads like an ancient document, map, star chart or x-ray. It feels unearthed and imbued with history. A ceramic piece by Johanna Jackson entitled Bright Future is a prehistoric emoji and vague cousin to Danny First’s ceramic works. Robert Russell’s pleasing grid of banal suburban details feel like like vacuum sealed Morandi still lives. Exaggerated highlights on the forms make each work look as though its been through a single iteration of Google’s DeepDream. The art historical-nerd riddle posed by Daan den Houter’s painting Without De Kooning and Eraser forces a harder look at what ends up being a genuinely fresh and satisfying small abstract work.

Olimpia's Eyes at Zevitas Marcus
Olimpia’s Eyes, curated by Jessica Hodin and Ben Charles Weiner at Zevitas Marcus is explicit in its focus on figuration, almost all of it painting, and this tighter conceptual emphasis benefits the work and the viewer well. Like the exhibition title, something seems off with Ben Wolf Noam’s Greco-Roman sculptural ode Mother Internet (Venus) from across the room. Closer inspection reveals that the statue appears to have not finished rendering in the matrix/simulation/holodeck. Its contrapposto pose echoes nicely with the photoshop-warped stroke-mag sex object in Ryder Ripps’s painting Gettin’ Ready. Lee Piechocki’s Captofromancy looks like if Mark Tansey tried to make a portrait of Ego the Living Planet from memory underwater. The gestalt appearance of the human visage from minimal information strikes smart chords in works by Rallou Panagiotou, Lauren Silva, Jenna Gribbon, Eric Yahnker and Brian Scott Campbell.

Heat at Paul Loya Gallery (Aaron Elvis Jupin)

The strong showing at Paul Loya Gallery is called Heat and despite being a sausage party, packs an off-beat punch. An overall cartoony, hallucinogenic vibe is maintained by a disco menagerie painted by Brian Montuori, a Chuck Jones-meets-Richard Tuttle installation by Aaron Elvis Jupin, and rough-hewn child like abandon that comes in two flavors: chunky, by way of the paintings of tattoo artist Ryan Shaffer, and flat, via the ironed-out primary colored figurative suggestions of James Ulmer. All the work in the show falls within the range of pleasingly disconcerting, and the fresh strangeness of Heat makes a case to hold its own among the deluge of summer group exhibitions in LA both large and small.

Concrete Matter & Liquefied Horizons @Garboushian Gallery (Bev Hills) ends Aug 19th

Perfect Day @Roberts and Tilton (Culver City) ends Aug 20th
Me, Myself, I @China Art Objects (Culver City) ends Aug 20
Heat @Paul Loya Gallery (Culver City) ends Aug 21
How to Build a Foghorn @Samuel Freeman (Culver City) ends Aug 27
Olimpia’s Eyes @Zevitas Marcus (Culver City) ends Aug 27th
Enlarged Fern @Moskowitz Bayse (Hollywood) ends Aug 27th
Southland @Charlie James (Chinatown) ends Aug 27
Summer Reverie @CB1 (Arts District) ends Aug 28th
Closing Celebratory Show @Rosamund Felsen (Arts District) ends Sept 1st
PLEASE HAVE ENOUGH ACID IN THE DISH! @M+B (Beverly Hills) ends Sept 2nd
Shared Universe @Eastside International (Lincoln Heights/the Brewery) ends Sept 3rd
Phantom Limb @Shulamit Nazarian (Venice) ends Sept 9th
We Like Explosions @The Pit (Glendale) ends Sept 11th
Passage @ACME (Wilshire/Mid-city) ends Sept 17th 

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Stage Is Set

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

The suite of paintings that first greet the viewer of Me, Myself and I, Jay Lizo’s solo exhibition at LAM Gallery, swirl with spatial effect and motion. Blizzards of graphically rendered cartoon leaves, branches, pebbles, and bits fall through each work. Based on Hiroshige prints, the feeling of chaotic movement in the works is palpable, completely recasting the usual tranquil stillness of the source images. Underlying compositional structures control the whirlwind imagery to assert the mixed media works as abstract paintings. The shattered remains of any identifiable pictorial information align as abstract image fragments within optically dazzling, ambiguous, multi-level spaces.  

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

The paintings of Dreaming Of A Year of Hiroshige serve as the introduction to the rest of the exhibition, comprised of three distinct bodies of work in total. The following main room is likewise alive with vibrant color and visual activity. In the middle of the room, resin-cast microphones fittingly amplify the content of Song From My Hero Collection, a grid of portraits of Lizo’s role models. Identifiable likenesses among the portraits are Richard Pryor, Ira Glass, Billie Holiday, Wolverine, Bruce Lee, Mark Twain, Angela Davis, Etta James and many others only indicated by their first names in the titles. Rendered graphically and in bright, flat color, they are all awkwardly caught unposed in the act of speaking or performing among abstract geometric elements that read as colored stage lights or spotlights. Taken together with the microphone sculptures, the paintings read as a vividly clamorous chorus, transforming the space into a performative arena. Spoken words, sung lyrics and physical actions are translated into vivd portraits of chromatic contrast augmented by sculptural suggestions of human presence and voice.

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

The Luscher Record Test, of which various iterations have been presented before, most notably at the fondly remembered Weekend in Los Feliz in 2013, is well tweaked here as a complement to the hero portraits. Presented alone this project is probably the highest-concept of Lizo’s work, in spite of it’s natural visual affinity here as a component of the allegorical performative concept of Song From My Hero Collection. The intuited logic of presenting performers, microphones, and records in the same room solidifies the overlap of Lizo’s interests in music, painting, performance and self-portraiture – the latter of which is used to describe the color-rich circular paintings of The Luscher Record Test, as evidenced by the exhibition’s overall title, taken from the accompanying animated video that beams from overhead, like a spotlight. The idiosyncratic, conceptual implementation and love of records and music in Lizo’s practice puts him and his work in the interesting company of artists such as Dave Muller and Sean Duffy, whose work has included record albums as both subject and object. Overall, the three presentations of Me, Myself, and I showcase Lizo’s articulate use of formal and conceptual languages to uncover personal and poetic intersections of color, portraiture, objectness, and performative presence.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Island Hopping

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

A lot of boxes are checked off for Made In LA 2016, even poetry, in the form of the exhibition’s subtitle “a, the, though, only”, which was also exhibiting artist Aram Saroyan’s piece for the biennial. In light of the invitation of fashion collective DIS to curate the 9th Berlin Biennale around the same time, the inclusion of participants in Made In LA 2016 that identify as a fashion design label (Eckhaus Latta), a conceptual entrepreneur (Martine Syms), and a member of a trend-forecasting group (Dena Yago) seems to forecast a trend in contemporary art at the biennial/art fair level that echoes the buzzy, corporate tech industry trend and language of “disruption”. Disruptive innovation is originally described in 1995 by Clayton M. Christensen as "innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect” that “tend to be produced by outsiders" (The Innovator’s Dilemma, 1997). If the divided reviews of the Berlin Bienniale are any indication, it is a trend in art that is meeting some resistance. Fortunately, this year’s iteration of Made in LA, curated by bona fide art curators Aram Moshayedi and Hamza Walker, is designed as "condensed monographic surveys, comprehensive displays of multiyear projects, the premiere of new bodies of work, and newly commissioned works from emerging artists”, as opposed to a more blended, equalized grouping of more artists, as in biennials past. Many of the rooms and areas of the exhibition stand on their own and often demand consideration as a series of individual projects and solo exhibitions.

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

Made In LA 2016 succeeds on the grounds of diversity and plurality. But a reminder of how diverse the population of artists in LA is, or how pluralistic their forms of production are is hardly revelatory at a contemporary art biennial in 2016. Viewers of art have been conditioned to expect more from biennials, figuratively and literally – this year’s artists count is 26, down from 35 in 2014 and 60 in 2012. Conversely, the exhibition offers less overwhelming, more intimate encounters with the work, reading at times like a clinical, abridged version of Surround Audience, last year's New Museum triennial. Standouts among the compartmentalized presentations of Made In LA include spaces devoted to Hugette Caland, Kenzi Shiokava, and Rebecca Morris. Others, like the presentation of Margaret Honda's films in thier canisters, Sterling Ruby's welding tables, and Guthrie Lonergan's Mn’Ms website hack would test the credulity of some viewers, and confirm the the beliefs of skeptical and/or cynical ones. There was apparently an ambient sound piece from Lonergan throughout the museums galleries, and though I bent down to get closer to the speakers in the rooms, I never heard anything. Perhaps that was fortunate, as Lonergan’s collaborators for the piece, Barefoot Music, are proudly credited on the Hammer website for the theme songs of reality TV hits like Top Chef and The Real Housewives. I felt a mixture of ghoulish intrigue and offense at the idea of Todd Gray’s Ray Manzarek performance (shades of Roberto Cuoghi), but I never saw him, as the Hammer website explains that there is only an "off-chance that Gray should visit the museum” during his performance. A gallery devoted to Fred Lonidier’s Labor Link TV easily feels like a single component of a hypothetical and perhaps overdue Lonidier museum retrospective. The sampling offered of Martine Sym’s work similarly whets the appetite for a broader overview of her multivalent production. The web page paintings of Joel Holmberg exhibit intriguing surface and conceptual qualities, but also feel stuck within cynical, Koons-esque painting “quotes”.

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

There are sparks of dialog between some presentations. Gala Porras-Kim’s and Daniel R. Small’s projects share an affinity that recalls both the strategies of Fred Wilson and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Rafa Esparza’s crowd pleasing underfoot installation also links up with those works, all three underscoring a connecting theme of anthropological excavation. Kenneth Tam’s video and Mark Verbioff’s installation could be mortal enemies, bros, or frenemies. But it is Silke Otto-Knapp’s large scale multi-panel watercolor in the lobby that sets the stage for the whole exhibition, with an image of islands, an apt metaphor for the overall exhibition structure, and maybe Los Angeles itself. Made In LA 2016 brings together representatives of many of the islands we have come to identify as existing within the contemporary art sea: painting, sculpture, installation, performance, film, video, etc. Colonies and trade have been established with the islands of fashion, reality television, the tech industry and more, expanding the definition and reach of the contemporary art territory. But who are the colonizers and who is the colonized? If the language and machinations of corporate capital continue to overtly influence the world of art (the original “disruptive innovation”) in a reversal of art’s historically disruptive character on culture writ large, what space will there be for authentic articulations of un-alienated labor from creative individuals of their own free will, beyond the concerns of how their labor fits in with commodification, monetization, and corporatization? Who benefits most from a blurring of the line between what it means to be a contemporary working artist and what it means to be a worker within the dubiously defined, mythical “creative class”?

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Eyes Have It

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

For Your Eyes Only, John Mills’s newest solo exhibition at Rosamund Felsen, is not about the 12th James Bond film from 1981 starring Roger Moore as 007. But the title is a clue as to what parts of the viewers’ body should be prioritized when experiencing this current body of work. Mills’s second solo with the gallery has him continuing with the square format, the white-ish grounds, the modest-to-heroic scale, and a visual language inspired by early European abstraction. A surface critique might argue for some more bolder, declarative evolutionary changes from one exhibition to the next, but as pointed out in the title, these works aren’t for a viewer’s cynical, novelty-seeking lizard brain. These works are for your eyes, only, the eyes being the only part of our brain that is in actual physical contact with the world outside of our own heads.

Having staked his claim with his format, ground, scale and referents, Mills’s new work is free to juggle the possibilities and delights offered with painting’s phenomenological effects. Space is stacked, folded, stretched and warped; marks, dabs, and scribbles flow, writhe and repeat themselves as if moving through time. Elements in each composition obey a felt sense of optical logic, the edge of the canvases being the most influential formal element. In the larger works Ellipsis, Sign Language, and Formal Foilbles, dabs/blobs/circles/dots bounce off the frame like Pong, tracing their paths into another spatial dimension, never bouncing out of the frame. Underneath and around them in the background and on their level, more familiar Mills-esque elements follow the blobs’ lead. More than even his last exhibition, Mills’s work reads like transcriptions of consciousness, reactions to emerging visual structures in each painting, a result of their being based on smaller drawings. Flashes of identifiable imagery are now joined in equal measure with more direct visual sensations; in Birdcage, Off the Wall, and Mental Charms the picture plane is carved and contoured on top of distant, hazy, clouds of fluffy background. While the emergent imagery in his last solo, High on Signs, frequently took the shape of suggested faces, heads, leaves and feathers, here scribbled into the grounds are goofy cartoon character bits and pieces, comically floating around, as in the paintings Commune and the aforementioned Off the Wall, recalling somewhat the line and character of Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson.

A photo posted by Jason Ramos (@thejasonramos) on

Suggestive associations abound in all the paintings, perhaps the most visually poetic being Out There, a smaller work from 2015. Simple diamond shapes read like kites in the wind, completing a recurring motif of motion through time and space. This work along with the paintings titled Master Stack and Nature Crush inch up to referencing landscape imagery, yet another possibility offered by the broad range of the abstract square format, the ultimate modernist invention. Mills’s squares this time, however, rely less on their identification as revivals of modernist aesthetic than as accessible, sensitive meditations on the affecting presence of marks, dabs, lines, scribbles, doodles, smudges, shapes and other basic visual responses. They are in a closer arena of work that would include such masters of affecting simplicity as Richard Tuttle, Mary Heilman, and Robert Ryman, though with an eye towards the basic components of intuitive pictorial imagery that is reminiscent of the recent work of Laura Owens, David Lloyd, Chris Martin, and Torey Thornton.