The further you delve into the Lora Schlesinger Gallery, the better Mark Stock's show gets.
What greets you up front might discourage deeper exploration. The centerpieces of "Hollywood: Uncovered" are bland encaustic paintings of individual letters of the famous hillside sign with photographs of vintage celebrities and news items embedded in the waxy mix. The landscape backgrounds are mostly generic afterthoughts and the works feel just a notch above kitschy souvenirs.
Further back in the gallery are a few large, competently painted narrative tableaux. The scenes contain mystery, even if their execution does not.
One shows a woman in crimson cocktail dress and work gloves, having just unearthed a box from a hole at the foot of the Hollywood sign. A box just like the one in the painting--metal, dirt-encrusted, tied with a rope--sits in a nearby vitrine, a palpable relic of this noir-ish fiction. It's amusing, this blurring of boundaries between physical fact and spun story. Hollywood's appeal is built upon just such illusionism, and so is the final and most intriguing body of work in Stock's show.
Direct descendents of 19th-century American trompe l'oeil still lifes (think Peto and Harnett) with perhaps a bit of Manny Farber thrown in, each of these paintings mimics a wall or chalkboard with postcard, hand-drawn map or playing card affixed. Stock steps up his technique here to an impressive, persuasive level and at the same time dials down the narrative information, leaving more to enthrall the eye and captivate the mind.
A fortune cookie message "taped" to one painted wall declares, "Either way you are right," and in terms of the reality and delicious fakery of these paintings, it rings true.
Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-1133, through Dec. 31. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.loraschlesinger.com