In his first Los Angeles solo exhibition in more than a decade, contemporary pop surrealist painter Alex Gross elegantly delivers a gripping commentary on the dysfunction of our times. The paintings—however eloquently conceived and rendered—convey through satire, whimsy and macabre detail, a disturbing underlying message: As unwitting consumers of contemporary culture, the more connected we are by the contrivances of technology, the more alienated, isolated and detached we have become in our real life social interactions. Some of the works (all richly painted in oils) allude directly to the prevailing phenomenon of social disquietude and estrangement, as in Laurel Canyon Social Network, which portrays a female figure holding a cell phone. She stands by a table set with untouched breakfast dishes in the foreground of a backyard scene. Five disembodied monochromatic heads float in the sky above, presumably, some of the contacts in her phone. In the background, a male figure sits at the edge of a pool while another female floats in the water. All three figures are firmly ensconced in their own worlds, as if alone. Pink polka dots are superimposed across the surface of the composition, contributing to a prevailing sense of unreality. Indeed, most of the figures in these works appear to be detached from their surroundings as well as from each other, their vacant looks conveying a chilling soullessness.
Delving into a gold mine of imagery sourced from a boundless imagination, Gross combines various genres in a sort of hybrid photo-realistic technique with surreal juxtapositions that might have been harvested from dreams—or nightmares. In Shopaholics II, chicly attired sheep ride a motorbike, clasp shopping bags and appear to be entranced by their cell phones. The logos of Apple, Twitter, Louis Vuitton, Adidas and other brands dot the pink background. Myriad sources of inspiration flavor the work of the Los Angeles-based artist, such as classic comic books, Japanese graphics and Victorian art. In both subject matter and style, Gross acknowledges George Tooker (1920-2011), whose magical realist / surreal figurative paintings similarly focused on the theme of modern anxieties, albeit of an earlier era. In Mirror (After Tooker), a female figure gazes into the screen of the iPhone she grasps in her hand, seemingly oblivious to the ominous presence of a skeleton looking on in the background. With his stunning execution, Gross convincingly warns viewers of our mindless capitulation to a chilling dystopian condition.