L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Nov. 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.lalouver.com.
In her second solo show at Roberts & Tilton -- in its new Culver City location -- Japanese artist Ai Yamaguchi creates a heavenly world suffused with such sadness that you won't know whether to smile or cry. Extreme emotional ambivalence is the heart and soul of Yamaguchi's powerfully stylized art, which transforms superficial cartoons into haunting evocations of lost innocence, lost hope, damaged lives.
On the stark white walls of the pristine gallery, Yamaguchi has hung eight curiously shaped panels that resemble puffs of smoke or clouds. Two larger ones lie on low tables, with padded tops made from old kimonos and eight spindly legs jutting out at awkward angles.
Each of her canvas-covered panels is impeccably finished, with up to 50 layers of gesso and endless hours of sanding. Its rounded edges and perfectly smooth face appear to be cast from porcelain and glazed to lily-white perfection.
The little girls Yamaguchi has painted on these exquisite surfaces are equally delicate: tender wisps of children who look like dolls dressed in colorful kimonos. The ones lolling around in loose-fitting pants or nothing at all look even more breakable.
Such subject matter is common to Japanese comics, where it usually fuels male fantasies. But Yamaguchi's doe-eyed children are too melancholic to be consumed so easily. They comport themselves with such heartbreaking dignity that it is too painful to contemplate the tragedies that have sent them to the icy heaven they inhabit. The installation suddenly seems less like a refuge from suffering and more like a temporary respite from the spirit-crushing grind they will return to when their break is over. Bliss is out of the question.
A barrel-shaped chamber stands in the middle of the gallery, like a shelter from the storm. Wrapping around its masterfully crafted interior is a multi-panel landscape filled with beautifully painted blossoms and more delicately drawn girls, whose sad eyes betray their fragile stoicism.
Visitors are left alone to contemplate their place in the sad story.
Roberts & Tilton, 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 549-0223, through Nov. 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.robertsandtilton.com.
Sensual nudes, bold flowers
Strange as it may seem to American eyes, the attractive nude woman who stands in the middle of five of the seven new paintings by Hubert Schmalix at the Jancar Gallery is not the most fascinating part of any picture.
Although she gets your attention as quickly as any sexy advertisement, what happens next is a lot more exciting than ogling a beauty.
With seemingly effortless ease, Schmalix gets you interested in the uncanny magic of paint on canvas -- its capacity to make you think of one thing while looking at another -- while never letting you forget that it is nothing but tinted goo smeared on and stained into tautly stretched fabric.
The backgrounds of the rooms in which Schmalix's painted woman stands are wonderfully complicated, filled with enough twists and turns -- even leaps of faith -- to keep your eyes moving quickly and your mind racing to keep up.
Persian rugs appear to have been hung on the walls, like makeshift tapestries. But Schmalix is not a Realist. He plays fast and loose with the patterns and palettes, changing colors mid-pattern and shifting patterns mid-composition.
The controlled chaos is a pleasure to behold.
His two flower paintings, each measuring about 6 feet by 4 feet (like the largest nudes), are even bolder and more sensuous. They seem to be lighted from behind; their flat planes of rich tertiary colors and sharp, darkly outlined leaves make them look electric.
It's easy to see why this Austrian painter lives in Los Angeles and commutes to Vienna, where he teaches at the National Academy. Southern California's desert-meets-the-sea light suits his Matisse-inspired subjects.
And the long-standing love affair between hedonism and art in Los Angeles makes Schmalix's paintings look right at home here.
Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Road, L.A., (213) 625-2522, through Nov. 1. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.jancargallery.com.