Together, Joan Mitchell and Jasper Johns would seem to be an unlikely pair of inspirations for a new body of paintings, but there they are hovering in the background of 10 lovely recent works by Mark Dutcher.
Two kinds of nominal handwriting -- gestural abstraction and a recognizable vocabulary of painted signs -- slip and slide across the surfaces of his canvases, as if perpetually merging and fading away.
Most of Dutcher's paintings at Coagula Curatorial are of a size (4 ½ feet tall) that informally positions a viewer a bit more than an arm's length away, as if stepping back to size up painted marks made in a variety of colors on the canvas. Intimate, those marks include thick slathers, thinned stains and layered strokes -- both purposeful and random but none of them figurative -- together with letters of the alphabet that may or may not cohere into words ("death," "transfer" and "lost" among them).
The thicket of painted marks hangs on the armature of a grid, either horizontal or turned to a 45-degree angle. The layering yields a sense of organic rhythms spreading across a formal structure, like vines growing on a trellis. The two panels in “Transfer,” the show's strongest work, even seem to loosely mirror each other, like an abstract, light-infused Mitchell “landscape” improbably crossed with a Johns “Corpse and Mirror.”
Mitchell and Johns might not have been specific inspirations for Dutcher's works, but their very different styles of painting both emerged in response to a dominant artistic ethos in the early and mid-1950s (in their case, Abstract Expressionism). In varying ways, their shared goal was to turn a governing visual language into something highly personal and distinctive; that's what Dutcher also achieves in the show's best works.
Coagula Curatorial, 974 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (424) 262-4852, through Oct. 19. Closed Sun. through Tue. www.coagulacuratorial.com