The annex at Michael Benevento Gallery holds three large paintings of three-masted sailing ships at sea, the kind that proliferated during the colonizing age of exploration that began half a millennium ago.
Shown in various states of full and partial sail, and largely drawn in black acrylic on white painted canvas, these are the vessels whose sailors scanned the globe during their unprecedented journeys.
In the main gallery a few doors away, painter Mark Roeder continues a similar scan in what could be called full sail. Every square inch of the room is covered by similarly black-and-white canvases, some stretched and some merely pinned to the walls, paintings made since 2008.
A pelican on a pier's piling, Neil Young on guitar, a Native American standing on a rock in a stream, a conquistador on horseback, a century plant in bloom, a gold-hungry miner, a towering redwood – the images, 97 in all, compile a broad if necessarily incomplete inventory of subjects related to California. They are plainly based on photographs, a medium born roughly at the same time as the state.
Sometimes Roeder covers over part of the black contour drawing with white paint, making slight but very obvious corrections to the composition. Using purely pictorial terms, it's as if he's emphasizing the mutability of visual knowledge.
In our digital age we scan screens like sailors at sea, checking to see what comes over the horizon and into view. When you look at Roeder's painting installation you likewise scan the images, both iconic and mundane, stopping to look more closely and then moving on, returning to places and suddenly discovering things you inexplicably missed on a previous go-round.
Roeder's installation at first glance looks Victorian, but he has actually found a savvy way to meld that new perception with painting's traditionally very different means.
Michael Benevento Gallery, 7578/7556 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 874-6400, through March 8. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.beneventolosangeles.com