From 1981 to 1991, Joe Fay had 11 solo shows in Los Angeles. His works were included in 27 group exhibitions around Southern California. In 1993, he moved to Montana. He has not had a solo show in Los Angeles in 24 years.
At Craig Krull Gallery, “Wild Heart” reveals that Fay has not missed a beat. Nine modestly scaled paintings and one small wall sculpture are compact dynamos: juicy puddles of viscous acrylic that Fay has poured atop one another in loose patterns.
The silhouettes of some take the shape of starfish. Others are simple geometric shapes that appear to be dissolving, their neat contours going all wiggly-squiggly. Still others are blobs: irregular splats and splotches that recall melting ice cream.
While all that activity — in a palette of summery pastels and industrial-strength coloring crayons — keeps your eyes busy, Fay doesn’t stop there. He adds thick, cake-frosting textures, some of which seem to expand pneumatically, like the Michelin Man.
In most paintings, these puffy reliefs surround the crisp silhouettes of birds, including crows, ravens, jays, warblers, swallows and kingfishers. Each seems to be a hole punched in space: an absence with riveting presence.
Fay also drags toothpick-thin implements — perhaps the wrong end of a paintbrush or the tip of a palette knife — through his deep puddles of wet paint. It’s as if he’s carving a liquid.
They hark back to the sculptures of silhouetted animals he made in the 1980s. It’s a great combination that is as much fun to look at as it must have been to make.
Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Aug. 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.craigkrullgallery.com