Culture Monster

Review: Jim Isermann gives paintings a fresh dimension

Christopher Knight
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Art Critic
This is Isermann's first solo outing at Richard Telles Fine Arts in five years

In six new paintings, Jim Isermann reaches out a human hand to an indifferent machine to perform a carefully constructed pas de deux. The dance is vivid and visually brisk, as the L.A. artist’s works typically are.

Sly elements of off-kilter composition and fluid chance here lend unexpected freshness. Handicrafts that include weaving and hobby-shop stained glass have been a staple in Isermann’s art for 30 years; Modern abstract painting, a century-old tradition, now joins their ranks in sophisticated ways.

The compositions are plotted on rectangular boards using a mathematical system, a technique familiar from Minimalist art, Bauhaus design and other forms in the long history of geometric abstraction. Isermann’s two-dimensional pattern is a graphic representation of a cube, which he lined up edge-to-edge in rows that cover each painting’s surface.

The cubic pattern was incised into the board with a computerized router, giving each representation of a cube the same flat materiality as the overall painting. But the paintings themselves, at 4 feet high and 52.5 inches wide, are not quite square.

The slight deviation between the paintings’ dimensions and the cubic compositions within them creates a palpable visual tension. Saturated latex color jacks up the pressure.

Isermann uses hand-painted stripes of red, yellow, blue and green to mark the cubes’ planar surfaces. (The palette recalls classic Ellsworth Kelly paintings from the 1960s.) Layered brush-marks are evident, while errant strokes and tiny rivulets puddle in the incised grooves.

It’s like a homey paint-by-numbers kit paradoxically applied to rigorous Machine Age geometry. Pop and Minimalism fuse. No two sets of stripes are the same, yielding six paintings that are structurally identical yet fundamentally unique.

A dozen drawings in the gallery annex plot related compositions and color schemes on graph paper. They complete the compelling show, which is Isermann’s first solo outing at Richard Telles Fine Arts in five years. It was worth the wait.

Richard Telles Fine Arts, 7380 Beverly Blvd., Hollywood, (310) 965-5578, through May 24. Closed Sun. and Mon.

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