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James Welling's 'Choreograph' a bold dance between the real and the abstract

James Welling's 'Choreograph' a bold dance between the real and the abstract
“0256,” a 2015 ink-jet print on rag paper, is among the painterly, textured images by James Welling on display in “Choreograph” at Regen Projects. (Regen Projects)

James Welling has had a long relationship with experimental landscape and architectural photography. His exhibition debut in 1975 was a series of Polaroids of his Venice loft, followed by Connecticut landscapes in 1977; the artist famously spent three years photographing architect Philip Johnson's Glass house in New Canaan, Conn., beginning in 2006.

Lesser known is Welling's lifelong love of dance. As a college freshman at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, he attended a Merce Cunningham performance. Welling was so moved, he went on to study dance for a year at the University of Pittsburgh before transitioning to visual art at the California Institute of the Arts. He's now teaching photography in the art department at UCLA.

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Welling's latest body of work, "Choreograph," is his ninth solo show at Regen Projects in Hollywood. It speaks to all three passions in boldly colored, tri-layered images blending architectural, landscape and dance imagery.

An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects: "4600," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm)
An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects: "4600," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm) (James Welling / Regen Projects)

Welling shot dance company dress rehearsals in Los Angeles, New York and other cities. He then merged those images digitally with recent landscape photographs from the snowy mountains of Winterthur, Switzerland, and the tropical suburbs of south Florida, as well as with pictures of buildings like Marcel Breuer and Thomas Gatje's IBM research center in Boca Raton, Fla. Welling rendered each photo red, blue or green in Photoshop, then further digitally manipulated the collages before making ink jet prints.

An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "7690," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm)
An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "7690," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm) (James Welling / Regen Projects)

The resulting works, on view through March 26, are painterly, textured and loaded with juxtapositions. The imagery seems abstract and photo-realistic at once, anchored by angular buildings and alive with swirly motion, rooted in vast natural spaces and confined within the performance arena.

An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "4776," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm)
An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "4776," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm) (James Welling / Regen Projects, Los Angeles)

"I'm very interested in four-color offset and how printing is done — my father worked for a printing company — and I wanted to tease out unexpected juxtapositions," Welling says. "I'm breaking the rules of normal color photography here, making things that don't look like things you see with your eyes."

An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "0321," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm)
An artwork from James Welling at Regen Projects. "0321," 2015, Inkjet on rag paper 42 x 63 inches (106.7 x 160 cm) (James Welling / Regen Projects)

Why return to dance after all these years?

"It was an unexplored part of my life," Welling says. "I just like watching dance, the whole process, something ephemeral and the mystery of watching a dance — and then it's gone."

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