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Review

Artist Mark Dutcher's 'Time Machine' sputters

The "Time Machine" that Mark Dutcher refers to in the titles of his paintings and collages at Jason Vass gallery delivers him to places of discovery and loss. At LACMA in 1983, the L.A.-based artist experienced a big-bang moment before a Susan Rothenberg painting, and his current work strives to project himself back into that expanded state.

The work is also steeped in a more melancholy sort of remembrance; one piece is subtitled after the late painter Noah Davis. What is missing here in too large a measure, however, is a vitality that can be felt now rather than merely be memorialized.

Dutcher draws as well as paints on the 10 large canvases in the series (2013-15). Most feature rows of zigzagged graphite lines, a kind of pseudo-script that suggests an urgent, unmediated flow but amounts to only generalized filler.

The large, painted letters that overlay this mildly agitated ground mostly spell out the names of bands (Joy Division) and their songs ("Atmosphere") plus phrases evocative of time's passage (decades, dawn fades). Layered into the mix are gestural swaths of paint, much of it white and reminiscent of Rothenberg as well as Jasper Johns. The surfaces of these oversized diary pages splay emotion but the work remains strangely remote, the anguish more emblematic than visceral.

Small, collaged ink drawings on paper are more concentrated in their energies and far less presumptuous. Here too Dutcher spells out words (halcyon, utopia), and the fluid, inked letters read as potent, abstracted forms. Snippets of what look like reproductions of stripe and target paintings pepper the pages with lively homage. Dutcher appears always to be in dialogue with other art, even if he doesn't consistently hold up his end of the conversation.

Jason Vass, 1452 E. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 228-3334, through March 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.jasonvass.com

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