Canan Tolon’s paintings at Von Lintel Gallery look like smudged, streaky photocopies or off-register photographic mishaps. Their serial imagery — mostly landscapes — skips and stutters across the surface in irregular horizontal bands. They feel right at home amid L.A.’s topography of low-slung, sun-baked boxes.
Yet there is no photographic or even illustrative process at work here. The paintings are thoroughly abstract: nothing but black oil paint pressed and scraped over white surfaces. Some are tinted with pale washes of color that lend them a sepia-toned nostalgia, but the purely black-and-white works are most striking for their stark elegance and uncanny verisimilitude. The viewer flits rapturously between recognition and wonder.
The paintings highlight our tendency to look for recognizable forms. A black smudge suggests a barren hillside; a series of dashes conjures the uprights of a parking garage. The works rely on our familiarity with sequential imagery: contact sheets, the spare, repetitious motifs of modern architecture and the catalogs of building types created by the New Topographics photographers.
They are also perhaps a comment on the degraded quality of our image landscape. We are so used to pixilated, grainy, low-resolution images that the slightest smudge can conjure worlds. But the works also point to the basis of all representation: the desire to recognize something familiar, even if in the end it turns out to be just paint.
Von Lintel Gallery, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 559-5700, through Jan. 10. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.vonlintel.com