A loose, spirited 'Hat Dance' at LAM Gallery

Artist Monique Prieto's 'Hat Dance' is a two-room romp that inaugurates LAM Gallery

Monique Prieto’s new paintings look nothing like any of the works she has made over the last 20 years.

Gone are the crisp contours of her goofy blobs of supersaturated color, the Stone Age graffiti of her enigmatic word paintings, the mix-and-match patterns of her trippy landscapes and the cartoon realism of her silhouetted still lifes.

In their place are the bare bones of painting: color, line, shape and texture, engaged in ways that show Prieto doing what she does best -- having loads of fun with a paintbrush and not worrying about what others think, much less what it all means.

Titled “Hat Dance,” the L.A. painter’s spirited show is a two-room romp that inaugurates LAM Gallery. Each of Prieto’s 14 paintings, three collages, three drawings and one small sculpture is named after a dance that was once banned in Mexico because it was too sexually suggestive.

Today, the formality of those dances, not to mention the long hours of practice they require and the public nature of their interactions, make them exotic -- out of place in a world whose social spaces have been gutted by social media.

For Prieto, the formality of the hat dance mirrors the formality of painting. Both are sensual, fantasy-fueled and out of step with the tempo of our times.

Each is also a form of courtship: a two-way seduction that unfolds step by step. Manners matter. Decorum counts. The same goes for skill and ambition, as well as the willingness to take chances, risk embarrassment and fall flat on your face, metaphorically if not literally.

In Prieto’s gutsy, lay-it-all-on-the-line exhibition, civility and showmanship go hand-in-glove as the painter takes the lead and struts her stuff. Think of her improvised compositions as time-delayed hat dances, their fluid movements, surprise flourishes and sexy drips standing in for the hat, around which the rest of us do our thing.

“Hat Dance” invites viewers to step up and dance in our imaginations, swooshing and stamping and sashaying as if there were no tomorrow. That’s the magic of Prieto’s art, whether painted, sculpted, drawn or collaged: It excites the desire to be the object of another’s affections -- to be a consequential part of an unpredictable give-and-take.

Such physical interactions fly in the face of much north-of-the-border abstraction, which tries to keep passion at bay by pretending that painting is a brainy exercise. Too wise for such one-dimensional nonsense, Prieto makes paintings that pulsate with hot-blooded pleasures -- and lots more.

LAM Gallery, 913 N. Highland Ave., (323) 493-5977, through Feb. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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