Focusing on painting, supplemented by bonus installation pieces, video, photography, ephemera and tattoo art, “Signs & Alarms” is an absorbing survey of the work of LA artists Margaret Nielsen and Scott Grieger, spanning a 45-year timeline. In concert with the Temporary Space LA mandate to take a long overview of mid-to-late-career artists rather than a current snapshot, this two-part exhibit provides a sustained narrative arc of the evolution of two distinct artistic visions. Curated by Peter Frank in collaboration with the artists, the exhibit is grouped both thematically and chronologically, offering tantalizing clues to the creative trajectory that propelled the works.
Linked by whimsical imagery on the fringe of the surreal, Nielsen’s early paintings feature curiously animated inanimate objects as subject. These subjects take flight-as in a free-floating tie or hat launched against a suggested sky-with textured brushstrokes connoting motion. Her later work is tinged with darkness both in palette and theme, as in a life-size installation representing the camping trip of life, small gem-like paintings, some of which become the templates for tattoos, and satirical renditions of North Americana (born in Alberta, Nielsen is a product of the Canadian mid-West). Throughout the course of her varied expanse of work, consistent through threads appear. Nielsen’s favored symbols-birds, which represent the spirits of the artist’s relatives and friends, flickering flames, matches, strings of pearls, and bears-recur as trademark motifs that persist despite dramatic shifts of mood and context.
The work of the two artists is fittingly paired, rooted in a sense of irony and a delight in the absurd. In his most recent large-scale paintings, Grieger superimposes pithy aphorisms on abstract backgrounds, in the vein of Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari. In A Drop of Truth (2014), composed with acrylic and spray paint, the text “A drop of truth in a sea of lies.” warps across the canvas, each word in different colors, as if cut from a magazine and collaged together in a ransom note. Grieger alternately manipulates background, text or subject with trompe l’oeil effect. Extrapolating from Minimalism, Brick (2001) is a close up rendering of a brick, the two holes in the clay like eyes. The artist invites us to embark with him on a daring shift in perception, which we are happy to accept. True to its pop-up roots, after it closes in its current space on Wilshire Blvd this fall, the gallery will shut down, with plans to reemerge in a downtown location sometime in January.