Step into “Michelle Fierro: New Paintings” and it’s clear that the L.A. artist is a first-rate noodler. Each of her 17 paintings at c.nichols project in Mar Vista comes off as casual, comfortable in its own skin and blissfully unburdened by the idea that art’s job is to keep up appearances.
The atmosphere is welcoming, something like stepping into the studio of an artist who couldn’t care less about impressing anyone, and who knows in her bones that she has to do her own thing.
That’s where the crunch and the substance, or the heft and the wallop, of Fierro’s noodlings come into focus. Her thoughtful meanderings — of paint, pencil and studio detritus sometimes scraped right off the floor — never pretend that painting provides some kind of safe space where an artist can do whatsoever she likes, viewers be damned.
That attitude toward painting, particularly abstraction, has been with us for decades. It’s usually accompanied by the idea that bigger is better, and that the boldest, most muscular gestures are the best.
In contrast, Fierro’s purposeful smudgings and scrapings and smearings convey her uneasiness about gestural expressionism and the self-expressive bombast that often goes with it.
Patience plays an important role. Indecision signals not weakness. Instead, second thoughts suggest complexity and the presence of multiple perspectives. Blotting out earlier versions and painting over mistakes is part of the process by which Fierro transforms wayward marks into unexpected possibilities.
In her hands, painting is not a public stage on which an artist struts her stuff. It’s a place to make room for a different way of thinking about painting — and being in the world.
c.nichols project, 12613½ Venice Blvd., L.A. Through March 25; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 915-1930, www.cnicholsproject.com