Art review: David Jien at Richard Heller Gallery


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David Jien’s solo debut takes visitors into a world filled with adventure, danger and sex. Old-fashioned romance simmers beneath the surfaces of the 30-year-old’s super-cool drawings, suffusing their action-packed dramas with unexpected tenderness.

At Richard Heller Gallery, 15 page-size works on paper, two large landscapes and a scroll-scale panorama tell Jien’s life story — not literally, like so much of the self-infatuated navel-gazing that digital technology makes possible, but with a more generous, user-friendly mix of poetic license, youthful excess, dreamy passion and labor-intensive devotion.


Jien treats the facts of his biography — first-generation Taiwanese American, veteran tagger who spent time in jail and recent art school graduate — as raw material for the fantastic stories that unfold in his pictures. Titled “The Plight of the Who,” his exhibition gives form to a home-grown cosmology in which a band of animal-headed renegades on horseback battles legions of tiger-riding reptiles and blue, bubble-headed automatons. At stake is the fate of a newborn babe, not to mention life as it’s known in Jien’s imaginary land.

Inspired by such disparate sources as Nintendo, Persian miniatures, Chinese scrolls, Homer, Chaucer, Stanley Kubrick, Roald Dahl, Henry Darger and Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jien’s art brings far-flung elements into a form-savvy epic that is familiar and formidable and a thrill to get lost in.

-- David Pagel

Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-9191, through Oct. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.