Amir H. Fallah, caught between fact and fiction

Amir H. Fallah’s “From the Primitive to the Present” fills Charlie James Gallery with enough material for three or four installations.

Five series of paintings hang on the walls, which themselves have been painted to resemble supersized swathes of plaid fabric. On a low pedestal rest 19 cast resin sculptures of household items — mugs, mirrors and bells — that also appear in the biggest paintings.

Those five mixed-media canvases depict figures whose heads and torsos have been draped in various plaid fabrics as they pose, often pompously, before what appear to be their favorite things: a collection of trophies, an old gramophone and an embroidered tablecloth.

The paintings’ oddness is promising, but it is not enhanced by the other works Fallah has made. Those include a series that depicts printed fabrics, all bright colors and extravagant patterns; a series of formal portraits, whose sitters’ faces have been covered by globs of dried paint; and two series of abstractions, one bearing poems written by an untalented amateur and the other containing excerpts from what seems to be a young teen’s diary.

As a painter, Fallah’s strength is to create fictions that draw visitors into worlds wilder and woollier than any we might imagine. His installation, by contrast, cleaves too closely to its real-world sources to break free of his own documentary impulses.

A gallery handout informs visitors that last year Fallah went to an estate sale in North Hollywood and bought a trunk full of a family’s personal items, including diaries, photos, home movies and clothing.

“From the Primitive to the Present” falters because it neither pays adequate homage to the anonymous family nor transforms their mementos into something of broader interest.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, (213) 687-0844, through April 11. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.

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