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Thomas Burke's bigger, bolder Op Art

A great deal of oomph and delicacy in Thomas Burke's exhibition at Western Project

Thomas Burke’s new paintings are eye-grabbing extravaganzas that pack more visual wallop into their brightly colored surfaces than has been seen since artists like Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Julian Stanczak and Victor Vasarely invented Op Art in the 1960s.

That short-lived moment, along with Photo-Realism, are two of the few that have not been revisited, recycled and rehashed by subsequent generations, whose members increasingly seem to be vultures picking smaller and smaller scraps from the carcass of art history.

In contrast, Burke treats Op as a springboard into something bigger and bolder and more muscular than it was the first time around. A great deal of oomph, and even more delicacy, are palpable in “Dutch Jailbreak,” his rollicking exhibition of eight new paintings at Western Project.

Each is a diamond-shaped panel that the New York artist has taped and painted with an airbrush. The borders between Burke’s screaming colors are razor sharp. Right angles combine with graceful curves to create the illusion that each flat panel is a flying wedge that rises off the wall, like a pair of radical skateboard ramps, their shared crest dividing Burke’s compositions right down the middle, either top to bottom or left to right.

Subtle shifts in Burke’s palette make the illusion work. Its physical impact, which is immediate and undeniable, quickly gives way to great subtlety.

When push comes to shove, Burke is a colorist. His hyper-saturated tertiaries are extraordinarily synthetic, if not downright unnatural.

With powerful nuance, they capture the artificiality of our times while harking back to the 17th century, when a great wave of Baroque painting, sculpture and architecture turned European art into a heady festival of bodily pleasure.

Western Project, 2762 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 838-0609, through March 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.western-project.com

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