A carton of milk's shelf life is pretty specific: Just read the label and you'll know, within days, when it's time to pour the contents down the drain. News and art also go sour, but it's significantly more difficult to predict when these vital cultural products are past their prime, no longer useful and ready to be tossed.
At the Angstrom Gallery, Yishai Jusidman's 14 oils on panel invite visitors to consider the differences and similarities between art and news, particularly in terms of the way each inhabits time. It's a terrifically unsentimental show that zeros in on the transience of all things and the importance of hanging on to whatever you value most, despite what others think.
Each of Jusidman's paintings measures 28 1/2 inches by 30 1/2 inches and is framed by a gilded rectangle of gold. Each is painted in the manner of the Old Masters. Layer upon layer of patiently built-up colors gradually add up to images rich in detail and thick with the atmosphere of reality: indescribably subtle shifts in tint, beautifully nuanced shadows and the suggestion of three-dimensional space and bodily volume that is always a pleasure to behold.
Jusidman's palette is contemporary, filled with synthetic blends and artificial accents. Yet it's also classic, softened and complicated by the prevalence of such organic colors as earthy browns, hazy grays and smoggy yellows. It almost seems as if you're looking at his handsomely crafted pictures through smudged lenses. Or that the carefully varnished panels have been around so long that they have suffered the same fate as old news- print -- darkening, getting brittle and beginning to disintegrate.
Jusidman has based each of his images on the thumbnail photographs in the World This Week section of the Economist magazine. Some are portraits, including of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (looking exhausted), Tony Blair (looking flummoxed), a coal miner (looking heroic) and a young protester (exuding righteous defiance).
Other paintings depict the victims of deliberate and accidental violence, refugees and immigrants, modern pirates, historical reenactments, moments of urban leisure and an instance of America's epidemic obesity.
No wall labels, captions or printed messages link any of the paintings to precise times or places. Although it's easy to recall the stories that accompany some, other events have already faded into obscurity. The subjects of most come somewhere in between, with the general outline of the story still available to memory even if most of the details have been lost.
Jusidman has been working on the ongoing series "The Economist Shuffle" for more than three years. Although it's haunting to witness once-gripping headlines drift into oblivion, it's even more sobering to think that the pace of painting is not all that different from that of the news -- slower, certainly, but no real match for the inhuman sweep of history. News stories and paintings both disappear from history unless they capture so much that is so significant to so many that they become mythical or legendary, so interwoven with the social fabric that they change the world.
That's a tall order for a painting. But it's one Jusidman confronts head-on in his exhibition, his first solo show in Los Angeles since a 1996 survey at Otis College of Art and Design.
Angstrom Gallery, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 204-3334, through Dec. 23. Closed Sundays and Mondays.www.angstromgallery.com.
Paintings deliver a jolt of solitude
People never appear in Cole Case's paintings of places familiar to folks who live in Los Angeles or just visit. A human presence, however, is suggested by the everyday objects the L.A. painter depicts: a nearly empty margarita glass, a battery-operated lantern aglow on a park picnic table or a portable television tuned to the news from 1968.
The moments Case paints are increasingly rare ones when we city dwellers are left alone with our thoughts, free from other people (not to mention the distractions of instant digital communication) and momentarily adrift in our heads, where desire and regret fuel all sorts of reveries and recollections. Think of each of his sev- en oils at Western Project as a pause button in your rapid-fire life, a unique chance to step back from the hurly-burly and experience a jolt of solitude.
The scenes and settings Case depicts are simple: a sunlit tabletop on the patio at an old-fashioned Mexican res- taurant; a shadow-shrouded booth at a local watering hole; the spotlighted stage at the Hollywood Bowl during a nighttime performance; the Hollywood Forever Cemetery under a rain-cleared sky.
The way he applies paint is far more complex.
Sometimes Case lets his turpentine-thinned colors run freely, dripping down the canvas and bleeding into one another, like supersaturated watercolors on the verge of chaos. At others, he trowels on thick pigment as if it's mortar and he's cementing bricks.
Some parts of some paintings are sculpted, built into three dimensions so that they have the tactility of the real thing. Other parts appear to have been applied with the fastidiousness of hobbyists who fill in every abstract shape of a paint-by-numbers set as if their lives depended on it. And still others have the hokey charm of outsider art, a sort of ham-fisted Pointillism that marries the unself-conscious earnestness of children's drawings with the savvy verve of avant-garde innovation.
All these elements pale in comparison to the way Case makes light spill from his paintings. From the ghostly glow of a black-and-white television to the cool blue illumination of hundreds of cellphones held up at a concert, he makes light come alive.
Whether its yellow dazzle shines from megawatt spotlights, seeps from a battery-powered lantern or bathes all of Los Angeles in the crystalline clarity of autumn mornings, light provides the magic that makes Case's paintings dance in your imagination. The landscapes they illuminate are at once intimate and ordinary, part of the world we all live in yet wonderfully out of step with its relentless rhythm and unforgiving tempo.
Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through Dec. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.www.western-project.com.
Sculptures with a grunge formalism
Ten years ago, formalism and grunge seemed to be opposites. The first smacked of academic fussiness -- out-of-touch snobbery for folks who wanted art to shore up its barriers against everything else out there. The latter threw its lot in with the rough-and-tumble adaptations of fly-by-night DIY- ers who embraced chaos, or at least its appearance.
Krysten Cunningham's new sculptures suggest that grunge formalism has become a style all its own: a movement with definite parameters and plenty of room to move freely within them. At the Thomas Solomon Gallery @ Cottage Home, her abstract work combines an anything-goes approach to materials with an incisive scrutiny of line, shape and color in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.
Cunningham typically combines spindly armatures made of wooden dowels, metal rods, bronze discs or the rims of bicycle wheels with strands of yarn, wool, nylon and jute. She strings these materials around the arms and legs of her skeletal structures to form seemingly simple but devilishly complex puzzles for the mind's eye.
Some, like "Chalk, Lily, Milk," "Ambassador" and "Bride's Cross," resemble summer camp crafts made by a precocious candidate for a doctorate in geometry.
"The Third Policeman" resembles an emaciated spirit-catcher undergoing mitosis. And two tabletop bronzes, with mismatched grids drawn in oil and pen across their flat surfaces, evoke out-of-step origami, their weightiness at odds with their slightness.
All of Cunningham's sculptures change in appearance and meaning as you walk around them. With very few ingredients, they make you wonder about peculiarly precise perceptions and the clever, often coy things a self-conscious artist can do with them.
In this, Cunningham joins Jessica Stockholder, Liz Larner, Pae White, Jason Meadows, Evan Holloway, Jim Richards, Lecia Dole-Recio and Olivia Booth. All make a funky, sometimes fecund mixture of shabby stuff and formal rigor.
Thomas Solomon Gallery @ Cottage Home, 410 Cottage Home St., L.A., (310) 428-2964, through Dec. 20. Closed Sundays to Tuesdays. www.thomassolomongallery.com.
L.A. artist proves an able colorist
It's hard to imagine a painting that makes the bold, eye-grabbing punch of Op Art look tentative. But that's exactly what Linda Besemer's new works do.
At the Angles Gallery, her 11 abstract paintings crank up the visual dynamics of Bridget Riley's crisp graphics and the buzzing colors of Julian Stanczak's undulating grids in wall-size works of mind-blowing potency. But instead of causing your optic nerves to go into spasms, the dazzling pieces hit you in the solar plexus. The initial visual wallop is stunning. And it's just the beginning.
The L.A. artist also shows herself to be a consummate colorist, her hard-edged bands of bright primary, secondary and tertiary colors so gently and deliberately playing off one another that they soften the laser-sharp lines and wildly warped grids of her otherwise abrupt compositions. Harshness gives way to subtlety and suppleness, creating embracing spaces you can get lost in without losing your way.
Besemer paints the same way she has for the last 12 years, laying a skin-like layer of acrylic on a gigantic sheet of glass and then using pin-striper's tape to add hundreds, sometimes thousands, of lines. She then peels off the thick layer of acrylic before hanging it, like a bath towel, over a metal rod or affixing it to a panel or directly to the wall.
In the old days, her lines were all ruler-straight -- vertical, horizontal and diagonal. Not so long ago, she added curved lines whose widths shifted to suggest space.
Now she throws sine waves into the mix, crisscrossing the undulating lines and bending them back into space as if each described the path of a soccer ball with so much spin on it that no one could stop it. The result is an operatic extravaganza that has as much to do with the madcap physicality of Baroque painting, sculpture and architecture as it does with the two-dimensionality of Op designs and the flexibility of computer graphics.
In Besemer's hands, paint does not sit around like a wallflower: It leaps into your face and into your space, where it makes your eyes and heart race.
Pagel is a freelance writer.