Patrick Nickell's new sculptures at Rosamund Felsen Gallery are pet-sized playthings: jungle gyms for the imagination that fuse Dr. Seuss goofiness with arts-and-crafts scrappiness to deliver loads more whimsy than their dimensions suggest.
In "Fly Your Flag," the L.A. artist has packed a front gallery with 11 lumpy sculptures, each made of plaster, chicken wire and burlap. Most have been painted a single color, like orange, yellow, pink, brown or blue. Two remain unpainted, their raw plaster and bare burlap fully visible.
Nickell has placed some on small tables, hung some from the walls and left the rest on the floor, where they seem to be scrambling, stumbling and galumphing their way across the concrete.
None looks like an actual animal. But most call to mind real creatures, transforming the cloying cuteness of stuffed animals — piglets, billy goats, flying squirrels and unicorns — into a kind of spunky unloveliness that goes hand-in-glove with their underdog appeal.
Many seem to be misfits, twice over. First, they stand out from the crowd because they are oddballs, sore thumbs, eccentrics. Second, their limbs, torsos and heads, or wings, tails and horns, do not form unified wholes so much as they seem to pull each abstract figure in different directions.
Nickell's savvy sculptures are 3-D versions of what we mean when we say we are of two minds about something: not just undecided but physically tugged in two directions, usually for good reason.
In an adjoining gallery, six other sculptures are generally bigger — the size of adults, not pets or children. All are abstract. The only colors are plaster white, burlap brown and chicken-wire silver. They evoke human bodies indirectly, even discreetly, by first referring to clothing, furniture, appliances and architecture — and only then suggesting flesh.
Discretion may be the better part of valor, but in Nickell's hands it's also a big part of art.