In the ’90s, Salomon Huerta made a name for himself by packing loads of mystery into seemingly simple images. His crisply painted pictures of lower middle class homes and the backs of peoples’ heads made both seem to be still lifes.
A kind of alienated intimacy took shape, catching viewers in the crossfire between artist and subject, image and object, matter and meaning.
Since then, Huerta has struggled, sometimes capturing the hide-and-seek intrigue of his signature works by painting “portraits” of masked wrestlers but more often destroying the canvases he laid his hands on.
At Christopher Grimes Gallery, the L.A. artist’s first solo show in six years reveals a painter who is not afraid to make mistakes as he pushes viewers beyond the comfort zone. Images of bloody boxers, nude beauties, a handgun and a vandalized statue are rendered with the cool detachment for which Huerta is known.
The colors, however, are more subdued than usual — less flashy, more smudgy and increasingly mixed with bruised purples, murky golds, hazy blacks and sullen browns.
Huerta’s paint handling is also looser and messier. Some of his worked-over surfaces seem unfinished, deliberately and effectively suggesting that the emotions with which they began have faded, grown cold and died away, leaving nothing but the husk of memory.
That combination — of passion’s intensity and the emptiness of its absence — has been the subject of Huerta’s art from the beginning, whether he has painted pictures of houses we will never enter or people we’ll never know.
Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through June 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cgrimes.com