Art review: Darlene Campbell at Koplin Del Rio

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Darlene Campbell takes on a familiar theme in her small, safe and lovely paintings at Koplin Del Rio. Her subject — development’s encroachment on the Southern California landscape — is charged, discomfiting even, but she keeps the political, environmental and social heat on low, so that the work barely simmers.

“Land Reform,” an 8-by-12-inch panel, presents a view of green, gently rolling hills that have been partially carved and scraped into submission as building lots. Campbell, who lives in Laguna Beach, paints reverentially, investing an all-too-ordinary sight with a 19th century luminist’s sense of the sublime, and further, gracing the edges of the panels with gold leaf. Robert Ginder’s gilded images of palm trees and California bungalows come to mind.
Overflowing dumpsters, desert billboards, stacked shipping containers and generic housing developments are hardly the stuff of icons, but Campbell bathes these manifestations of our materialist impulses in spiritualized light and makes them so. She can get heavy-handed (as in “Future History,” a Sandow-Birk-like vision of freeway pylons and classical columns, both in ruins on the same stretch of what was once an Orange County toll road), but mostly the work errs on the side of understatement. The interruptions and incongruities of our untouched/overbuilt landscape are diplomatically smoothed over. Beautiful and banal coexist in pictorial harmony, reconciled by the burnished glow of afternoon light.

– Leah Ollman

Koplin Del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through May 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: ‘Land Reform’ (top) and ‘Painted Desert 2,’ 2009. Courtesy of Koplin Del Rio Gallery.