Critic’s Picks: Los Angeles

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Although shadowed by the onset of Pacific Standard Time this fall, contemporary artists in Los Angeles have not sat meekly on the sidelines to observe the historical parade. Contributing Editor Shana Nys Dambrot picks out six SoCal artists whose shows are worth detours this fall.

East vs. West
2010
Gajin Fujita
Spray paint, paint marker, Mean Streak paint stick, gold, white gold and platinum leaf on wood panel
12 panels at 84″ x 22″ overall: 84″ x 264″
Private collection Photo: courtesy L.A. Louver

Simply reading the exhibition checklist of a Gajin Fujita exhibition tells you most of what you need to know. Not the titles per se, but the details of his mediums–spray paint, acrylic, paint marker, platinum, gold, and white-gold leaf, and something called Mean Streak Paint Stick. Known for the joyful merging of his misspent youth in a Boyle Heights graffiti crew with a deeply steeped appreciation for the conventions of historical Japanese painting, his choice of media represents the mutual raiding of these toolboxes in a way that elementally supports what he lays down in the imagery itself. His layering of hyper-stylized Japanese classicism (coiffed warlords, sexed-up geishas, symbolic animal avatars) with street art tags and sprays that recall the prominence of illustrative calligraphy in the Japanese fine and popular-art lexicon, is nourished by his expert use of real, authentic materials. His trademark grafting of contemporary cultural motifs, like sports and fashion, onto this double-vision technique is made all the more convincing by the collaboration of his former street-crew colleagues who add their own tagging to his panels. He’s just now releasing his first large-scale prints through Modern Multiples, giving fans with less than 150K a chance to get in on the action. “Made in LA” opened in October and remains on view at LA Louver in Venice through November 12.

Siri Kaur practices a kind of photography that searches for the timeless but often encounters the skeptical along the way. If her landscapes are domestic gardens of Eden, her solitary female figures are more Lillith than Eve. Her mystical, romantic, borderline Gothic taste in landscape and portraiture winks at the Old Masters and hints at the New Age, making stops at Homer, Wyeth, and Hopper to pick up some modern malaise and new England wistfulness along the way. But that’s the thing about Kaur’s images–all the most salient formal comparisons come from the world of painters; this despite the easy casual encounters, convincingly unstaged happenstance, and obvious fetish for slanting light that speak directly to the concerns of modern color photography. Her early work tended to pick one or the other thread, investigating the legacy of portraiture of and, in our post-Sontag world, by women, or else a nearly abstract staring contest with light-based natural phenomena. Her current work has found its stride in her fusion of these strands into a richer whole that both opens her eye and mind to observable miracles of experience, as well as inspires her narratives of personal memory. “Know Me For the First Time” opened in October at Blythe Projects in Culver City and continues through December 17.

It’s tempting to describe Jeremy Fish as a post-illustration painter and leave it at that. His unique, rock-n-roll-ready style and breezy crossbreeding of Pop culture (low) with patient craft and superior draftsmanship (high) has made him a favorite among the Upper Playground and Juxtapoz set. But there’s something restless and omnivorous in Fish that has also inspired him to pursue projects from epic sculptural experiments to commercial design partnerships–as well as his longstanding love affair with old-school woodcut printing. Putting his own stamp on a decidedly analog image-making process, Fish further tilts his inherent affection for mythological cartooning in the direction of centuries-old fantasy and folkloric symbology. His lexicon of post-animation animals and post-industrial machines, especially militaristic ones, is both familiar and futuristic, gloomy and witty, hilarious and poignant. His use of woodcut printing lends a little rustic roughness and a certain handmade quality to his normally hyper-crisp visual character, clean line, and perfect palette. The evolution of his work toward both a more politically intense iconography and labor-intensive, thoughtful technique speaks not only to Fish’s dedication to his craft, but to a broader art-world trend toward an eclectic modernity that embraces all manner of voices, from the tee-shirt clad to the ancient and monastic. “Rise of the Underground,” a two-person show with Kenichi Yokono, opened in October at Mark Moore Gallery in Culver City, and continues through December 17.

George Legrady. Part photograph, part “experimental situation,” the work of this acclaimed Santa Barbara-based multimedia artist is about to double back on itself, retracing its own steps to move forward. On the one hand, Legrady embraces variations of cutting-edge and non-traditional imaging technologies from digital processes to lenticular printing–the better to infuse static images with both physical and narrative kinetic potential. Lenticular printing is familiar to most as a sort of proto-holograph in which several images might appear on the printed surface, depending on which angle it is viewed from. Legrady uses it to give life to his layered photo-montages, created by interlacing several of his own earlier photographs into a multidimensional whole that, in turn, gives rise to a far greater number of possible compositions. This engaging technique is formally captivating, but with Legrady, its serious importance lies in what this near-unpredictability means for the critical analysis of photography in general. The capriciousness of perception in his work is the physical counterpart to the presence of hidden meanings in its content, and an indictment of photography’s tendency to be seen as the impartial witness to reality, when in fact it is the result of a million unknown choices and the obliteration of what it does not show. “Refraction” opens November 5 at Edward Cella Art + Architecture on the Miracle Mile, and continues through December 31.

Cal Arts is famous for turning out conceptual punsters across the disciplinary board; to the point where, perhaps unjustly, its graduates have a rep for sometimes privileging idea over craftsmanship. But when you get an artist who emerges with his devotion to patient craft intact, well, then, you’re probably in for a treat. Such is the case with

Michael Decker, a sculptor who manipulates found objects in stylistically dissimilar but well-defined bodies of work that are utterly responsive to the needs of whatever he’s working with. His pine cone trophies featured a series of dime-store plaques with saccharine sayings like “Best Aunt Ever” and little chubby figurines, arms flung wide, wherein the figures are replaced with wire-wrapped coniferous nuts –to hilarious, cheeky, absolutely charming effect. His ironing board installations, meanwhile, offered a larger-scale series of constructed sculptural objects and installations engineered from a trove of found vintage ironing boards, stripped of their fabric coatings to reveal the sleek and quirky, enamel-and-rust industrial design of the skeleton. The through-line is a conceptual deconstruction of cultural tropes and the redemption of the discarded that transcends differences in appearance to get to the same punch line: the discovery of accidental beauty and poetry in the most unlikely places. Decker’s solo show opens November 19 at Steve Turner Contemporary on the Miracle Mile, and continues through December 17.

Lisa Adams is kind of the painter’s-painter laureate of Los Angeles, though not in a bad way. Adams’ work has undergone its share of sty
listic nips and tucks, dissolutions and breakthroughs over the years, but through it all, she’s never stopped attacking the paper or canvas, and has grown increasingly courageous in her persistent explorations of personal, private narrative and lyrical symbolism. From earlier, superlatively finished, often text-inclusive pictures, to a more recent, decisive loosening of technique and composition, Adams has been a moving target along the abstraction/figuration continuum. She favors tones over tints; even her bright colors are sweetly overcast. She’s got a crush on trees and birds, which provide a rich source of narrative analogy for an artist with a love of fairy tales, psychoanalysis, and poems about freedom and gravity. Her scenic protagonists are allegorical armatures, while her gift for draftsmanship and her dreamy way with pigment washes and delicate surfaces are their own, naturalistic reward. Her just-released artist’s book “Vicissitudes of Circumstance” (Zero+ Publishing) lavishes attention on passages of detail from her paintings, revealing the edgy expressivity and painterly gymnastics at the foundation of even her most serene pictures. Her recent show “Lisa Adams: Born This Way” ran from September 11 — October 9 at Offramp Gallery in Pasadena. “Paradise Notwithstanding” opens at CB1 Gallery downtown December 11, and continues through January 15, 2012.