Art review: Josh Dorman at George Billis


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Josh Dorman is a true digital artist, in the pre-electronic sense of the term. His work is insistently handmade, an intricate and laborious visual and verbal mashup. Craft plays a part in screen-based manipulations too, of course, but the manual nature of Dorman’s enterprise matters. Most of his intriguing, collaged paintings at George Billis begin with early 20th-century topographic maps, which he alters and paints upon, incorporating into the mix illustrations of mechanical devices, plants and animals cut out of old reference books.

Dorman’s improvisational engagement with these outmoded sources can be playful, punning, wonderfully curious. Space bends, scale morphs and perspective shifts radically: the outlined shape of a lake becomes a creature splashing into a painted body of water in one piece; in another, a topographic map, with its linear denotations of dimensionality, converts to a naturalistic, painted image of a steep cliff ringed with narrow roads, then reverts back again to flat abstractness.


Dorman’s stream of consciousness meanders in multiple directions at once and the waters can get a little murky in places, but at its best, the work marries the wild immediacy of the present’s information gulp-fest with the sensibility of a tamer, more circumscribed past. Dorman’s work abounds in bridges and elevated pathways, metaphors for navigating the distance between now and then, here and there.

A group of small, panoramic pencil drawings shows the New York-based artist stretching in new but related directions, creating seamless visual passage from cityscape to mindscape, from the world of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” through de Chirico to Willy Wonka. One of the most absorbing of the recent works, “Closer Look,” inserts just such a monochrome, retro-futuristic view into the schema of a larger, colorful map-based painting, forging yet another connection between divergent modes of being and seeing.

--Leah Ollman

George Billis Gallery L.A., 2716 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 838-3685, through Oct. 23. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Images: Closer Look, 2010 (top) and Archipelago. Courtesy of George Billis Gallery.