Los Angeles Times

New paintings by Kelly McLane at Angles, Elliott Hundley has his first solo museum show at the Hammer. And more.


Anxiety is part of the rich landscape




Kelly McLane’s new paintings at Angles are works of grand, festering beauty — light in touch, dark in mood, magnificent worrisome things. McLane is a history painter who bypasses specific events to capture instead the tenor of unease that seeps like a toxic gas through civilization’s rise. She is also a landscape painter who, similarly, grounds her images in no particular place but consistently conjures a sense of the great and terrible sublime.

Earlier work by the L.A. painter drew upon an incongruous vocabulary of forms: bears, goats, roller coasters, carnival booths, circus tents, discarded tires, airplane wrecks. This group too eludes narrative logic but grasps an urgent, visceral reality.

Horses and their riders, tents and animal carcasses are the main players. It’s impossible to determine whether we’re looking at preparation or aftermath.

And of what? The scenes oscillate between spectacle and conflict, event and ruin. In “Hoarse,” for instance, a long stretch of tenting circles through the canvas. It could read as a military encampment. Small, tank-like cars in one section would affirm it, as would the disembodied horse’s foot in the chalky white foreground. But in this painting as in others, there is also a hint of staged entertainment, a match of some sort, or a race.

In “Good Thing About Maggots,” a rotting carcass of indeterminate species spills open like a horn of plenty. Bloody sewage in warm peach, fuchsia, manila, pumpkin and crimson pools around the gaping rib cage. Tufa-like vents in the foreground spew grimy steam, and the ground nearby buzzes in acid yellow.

The way McLane works in paint and pencil, setting passages of intense opaque color against areas left white with images drawn in, or translucent washes, gives the surfaces and the scenes a quality of emergence, as if still in process. Form, suggestion and absence keep trading places. A deep gold defines fabric tenting in one place, while elsewhere in the same painting the tent is a mere pencil outline, and the shadowy depths within are gold.

Scale continually shifts as well, injecting a slightly destabilizing, disorienting force. Elements of different scale share the space of a painting, the way fears and memories and fantasies crowd a dream. The parts may not rationally belong together, but visual continuity unites them.

Horse heads and legs jut in from the edges of several canvases, thrusting us into the scenes and intensifying the immediacy of McLane’s painting style. Once in, we stay in. There are so many details that beckon the eye and such complexity to unsettle the mind.

In “God Beams,” McLane shines rays like klieg lights onto a greenish lumpy expanse. One beam falls across the corpse of what looks like a dolphin, its spine and ribs trailing out of the cylindrical shell of its broken body. An open gate beneath an archway suggests some distinction between the land on the near side and that beyond.

Horses with riders pass on the far side, and on the horizon McLane has drawn in some craggy notes of the past: an Easter Island monolith, a Neoclassical structure. In the foreground sprawls another huge carcass, perhaps a whale this time.

And threading through the sallow field is another horizon of sorts, an irregular red brick line separating the land above from an underworld of penciled-in plumbing and upside-down houses. This realm beneath looks benign enough. It’s the hellish and violent right-side-up world, under the “God Beams,” that disconcerts.

McLane adroitly crafts her compositions so they feel present and immediate, though the time frame of the scenes is indeterminate. Time, like space, remains vague and fluid. References to monuments or styles of the past crop up, as do modern structures and familiar trash.

Both emotionally and temporally, the paintings feel epic in scope. War, glory, destruction, mission, disaster, decay — all come into play in these anxious scenarios. Waste, especially, is what comes to mind over and over. Not just physical debris, but a kind of moral and material failure that accompanies — and perhaps best defines — our march through time.

Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through June 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

A lot of work for little substance

Contingent is the operative term in the case of Elliott Hundley, a recent UCLA master of fine arts graduate having his first solo museum show at the Hammer as part of its projects series featuring emerging artists. Contingent describes the work’s ephemerality, its variability, and it also delivers a fitting tinge of judgment: One of the word’s multiple meanings is nonessential.

Hundley’s installations are elaborate and labor-intensive in disproportion to their import and sense of consequence. “Proscenium” spans the height of the Vault Gallery. Like a kite, its slim bamboo infrastructure supports facings of collaged papers. Hundley’s is a kite gone bad — ungainly, oversized, a giant accretion of decorative bits and ambiguous fragments.

“Siren” too is extravagant in its air of casual assembly. Two wall-mounted reliefs are packed with snippets of fabric, crocheted doilies, feathers and cutout photographs (of his friends, painted and posed) and reproductions. A free-standing pedestal with domed glass cover completes the work, a performative archive in three dimensions.

Hundley’s most endearing effect is his use of straight pins (by the thousands) to affix tiny cutout pictures, sequins or beads. “Garland,” which protrudes about 5 feet from the wall, is a spiny, airy contraption spiked with such pins, as well as a dangling crystal, a wrapped stone and a few animal teeth. There’s a whiff of the romantic in Hundley’s piercing hundreds of pictures of leaves, among other things, each snippet saved like taxonomic evidence, like a precious relic.

UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, (310) 443-7000, through Sept. 3. Closed Mondays.

A glorious tribute to California

Many years ago in a museum show, I overheard a docent identify a schoolboy’s enthusiastic response to a Sharon Ellis painting, his repeated, rapid intake of breath, as “art asthma.”

Ellis’ first L.A. gallery show in five years, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, induces a similar state of euphoric, breathless shock. The six paintings constitute a rapturous, dazzling ode to California — its sea, expansive sky, desert landscape, even its contributions to Modernist art history.

In “Kelp Forest,” Ellis introduces a female figure, a water spirit of sorts, into a mirrored pattern of sinuous green vines and electric threads of light. The human form is new to her work, and treated much like the radiating swirls of flowers and leaves in a neighboring painting: It skirts kitsch, pushing ornament into the realm of the hypnotic.

“Lotus for Agnes” pays tribute to Agnes Pelton, whose luminous paintings of plants and other forms were as much internal as external still lifes. Pelton, along with William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Charles Burchfield, among others, laid the foundation for Ellis’ intensely visceral take on nature.

That rapture peaks in paintings like “Eucalyptus and Poppies,” where trees form a throbbing, gleaming emerald screen above cool, viscous wisps of violet fog. Each element in Ellis’ paintings is amplified by a contour that reverberates in multiple colors. These elements then layer, one upon another, building to a pulsating, spectacular grandeur, as breathtaking as it is breath-giving.

Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through July 1. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

What this group can do with paper

“Draw, Paper, Scissors,” at domestic setting, has unusual verve and integrity, especially for a group show with a loosely defined theme. Such shows typically have their high points and dull stretches, variable interest passing for variety.

Meg Linton, director of the gallery at Otis College of Art and Design, guest curated, gathering 18 artists from L.A. to London who work on or with paper. The range is wide and the selection is tight.

Several of the artists visualize patterns and networks. Elizabeth Turk, drawing a densely faceted mosaic in white on black, conjures both the obsessiveness of Yayoi Kusama and the organic ebullience of vein patterns in a leaf. Deborah Aschheim’s purple tubes connecting to magenta pods suggest a neural network; David S. Rubin’s dashes and beads amass in a free-form, swirling nebula.

Energy is the unifying force in these works and quite a few others. Penelope Gottlieb beautifully articulates dissolution in drawings of firm black line and fine crosshatching that resonate with both cartoons and constructivism, Katrina and Kandinsky. A few exquisitely rendered moments of acute observation by Luke Matjas and Jennifer Celio offset the tumult.

Among the highest of the show’s many high points are works with a narrative bent: Jason D’Aquino’s poignant, pointed account of cultural contact between explorers and natives; Joe Biel’s crisply rendered anomalies; the Grosz-like satirical spread of Oscar Camilo de las Flores’ “The Strange and Bizarre History of Lactation in Latin America”; and Eric Beltz’s tenderly drawn love letter/botanical study/crime scene/morality tale, “I Love You Too, Monster.”

Rounding out the vibrant show are works by Rob Bisi, Adam Mars, Don Suggs, Jonathan Callan, Coleen Sterritt, Ann Diener, Emily de Araujo and Nathan Hayden.

domestic setting, 3774 Stewart Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 391-8023, through June 24. Open Fridays and Saturdays.