Foghorns are virtually obsolete today, new technology having usurped their Industrial Age function of warning vehicles about hidden navigational hazards. Relegated to the realm of poetic metaphor, they turn up as a loose hook for the 63 works in the four-artist show “How to Build a Foghorn.”
At Samuel Freeman Gallery, the creaky, listing sailing ships in lithographs by Danish artist Mie Olise don’t look as if they could take an adventuring passenger very far. They’re lively images of magnificent decay.
Welded steel assemblage sculptures by Bridget Beck gather urban detritus — security gate, coat hooks, rebar, parts of bus benches, etc. — which she unifies through monochrome paint jobs and sets on wheels for easy mobility. The engaging result is a cross between formalist sculpture and domestic furniture, both scavenged from our recent industrial past.
Moody and dreamlike nocturnal landscapes in paintings by Erik Parra juxtapose suburban living rooms and backyard patios with vast starry skies, as if both are alien habitats. The fragile strangeness of ordinary objects is also evident in sculptures of potted cactuses, books and decorative knickknacks, all made from painted tissue paper.
Works by all three artists are gently shaded by a sense of hanging on in uncharted seas. In lovely floral paintings on silk by Craig Kauffman (1932-2010), the blank canvas is itself that open sea.
He navigates the void using a delicate, dappled line that constructs a sturdy visual architecture from the most fragile subject matter — orchids, a tropical flower with thousands of taxonomies. His still lifes catalog exotic blooms that are tall, willowy and weird. Kauffman has been called the most naturally gifted painter produced in the first generation of major postwar Los Angeles artists, and here it’s easy to see why.
Samuel Freeman Gallery, 2639 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Through Aug. 27; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 425-8601, www.samuelfreeman.com