Deep sense of mystery pervades Peter Zokosky's paintings

Peter Zokosky's portraits at Koplin del Rio Gallery go beyond bounds of familiarity, comfort

Peter Zokosky’s portraits of puppets, babies and fish get visitors involved with creatures we would ordinarily overlook or go out of our way to avoid. At Koplin del Rio Gallery, the L.A. artist’s 18 paintings, each neatly set in a handmade frame, invite us to extend our sympathies beyond the bounds of familiarity, not to mention comfort and complacency.

In the 18th and 19th centuries that was what Romanticism was all about: getting selves to expand so they’d be more connected to the cosmos. Realism put an end to such dreamy idealism, leaving art in the 20th century focused on life’s gritty details.

Today, Zokosky binds together these divergent strands, wrapping Romanticism and Realism around each other by linking ordinary subjects and unexpected emotions.

Nine paintings depict ventriloquist dummies that Zokosky has carved from wood and dressed in children’s outfits purchased at clothing stores found in malls across America. Every puppet is just what it is — an inanimate object — and a whole lot more: a fanciful creature that is not all that different from any of us, particularly when we feel that we are not in control of our lives or are going through the motions, acting out scenes scripted by others and unable to break free.

Similar dramas unfold before Zokosky’s six portraits of babies and two portraits of stingrays from the Long Beach Aquarium. Neither cute nor cuddly, the babies come off as alien — not in the sense that they come from outer space but in the deep sense of mystery they embody. The weirdly sentient fish capture the haplessness of adulthood, the struggle to hold it together and the absurdity of it all.

Craftsmanship matters to Zokosky. So does verisimilitude and fidelity to the way real things really look. But the light touch of his paintbrush and the thin layers of paint he applies make room for the imagination, softening reality’s hard edges and bringing a sense of possibility to the forefront.

Koplin del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through July 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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