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Luchita Hurtado abstract artworks mix cultures like colors, to rousing effect

Luchita Hurtado abstract artworks mix cultures like colors, to rousing effect
Luchita Hurtado, "Untitled (detail)," circa 1950, crayon, ink, watercolor on paper. (Park View Gallery)

Spirits dwell within 21 lively, lovely abstract drawings by Luchita Hurtado at Park View Gallery, almost all dating from 1942 to 1952. The upheaval of a catastrophic war and its tumultuous aftermath was reshaping the way art looked and felt, and in these works flat, loosely figurative shadows seem to flit through spiky and organic shapes.

The drawings are accompanied by four oil paintings. Most are small and rudimentary, but the largest (and best) effortlessly translates Hurtado’s enchanted drawing motifs into the more resistant medium of oil on canvas.

The visual slipperiness on display perhaps partly reflects the peripatetic situation common to many artists of the day, exiled and emigrated to a host of safer havens during difficult times.

Hurtado, who has long lived in Santa Monica, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1920 and moved as a child with her mother and siblings to New York, leaving the ruthless dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez behind. During the years covered in this modest but invigorating show, she  shuttled among those three far-flung locales — plus Mexico City, the San Francisco Bay Area and Taos, N.M.

Her drawings’ loosely Surrealist forms recall dense pictographs from a variety of cultures, ancient and modern. Among them are prehistoric cave paintings, Northwest and Southwest tribal art, pre-Columbian reliefs and the abstract paintings and sculptures of Chinese-Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, Chilean Roberto Matta and Japanese American Isamu Noguchi.

Hurtado’s work was multicultural before multicultural was cool. In the midst of the era’s industrial-strength brutality, born of racist claims of ethnic and cultural superiority, an artistic search was on to discover ways to begin anew.

And yet, there is nothing apocalyptic in Hurtado’s drawings, nothing that reveals fear of disaster and ultimate doom. Forms pull apart yet remain poised and in balance. Suggestions of shamanic figures and ritual dancers hold their linked arms aloft. Forces that are felt as much as seen move silently through her abstract fields.

Luchita Hurtado, "Selected Works, 1942-1950," installation view.
Luchita Hurtado, "Selected Works, 1942-1950," installation view. (Park View Gallery)

Vibrant colors within outlines of black ink are drawn in a variety of hues. Muddy watercolor washes brushed across the surface soak into raw paper between forms, elsewhere beading up atop the waxy green, purple, hot pink and other colored-crayon shapes. Random accident dances with conscientious design.

The result is a salutary visual grit, which anchors Hurtado’s contradictorily evanescent forms.

Park View Gallery, 836 S. Park View St., No. 8, Los Angeles. Through Jan. 7; closed Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. (Check for holiday closings.) (213) 509-3518, www.parkviewparkview.com.

christopher.knight@latimes.com

Twitter: @KnightLAT

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