From Fred Stonehouse, haunting portraits and visual poetry

Fred Stonehouse's amusing, sometimes haunting paintings adopt many of the conventions of portraiture — head-and-shoulder framing, three-quarter view — but the subjects assume a kind of allegorical stature, tarot card-like, representing a mythic persona, fantastic condition or daunting syndrome.

"Spots," among the most wonderfully unnerving, shows a young man with one blue eye and one blackened green one. The rest of his features are obscured, obliterated by a constellation of oval dots in mustard, crimson, white and olive. The marks have a clown-like buoyancy but at the same time, connote a strange sort of physical and psychic bruising.

The abraded backgrounds of the paintings and their deep, heavy frames push the works into a nebulous time zone, several steps removed from our own. Stonehouse's "Devils and the Dead" series of paintings on old black-and-white studio portraits, many with internal captions, similarly skews the familiar, playfully prodding it into the realm of the odd or grotesque.

Stonehouse shares the gallery with Minneapolis artist Melissa Cooke, a former grad student of his at the University of Wisconsin.

Cooke's technique of brushing powdered graphite onto paper yields a slightly softened, stunning realism, rich in tonality. Her strongest works mimic spontaneous urban collages, segments of walls layered with graffiti, cartoonish sketches and poster-like images of cultural figures, including Benjamin Franklin and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Cooke deftly conjures the found visual poetry of such places, their free-associative density and zest.

Koplin Del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through July 11. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

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