Art review: Terry O’Shea at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art

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“Terry O’Shea: Actual Size,” at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, is an intriguing counterpoint to the sublimely polished works of the Light and Space luminaries — Craig Kauffman, Helen Pashgian, De Wain Valentine and others — so prominently featured in Pacific Standard Time. A contemporary of those artists, though far less known today (he died in 2002), he was similarly immersed in the artistic exploration of the resins and acrylics that were being industrially developed in the 1960s.

His approach, however, was strikingly different. The dozen or so cast resin pieces included in the show — a series of wall-mounted panels, another of sculptural slabs and another of small, colorfully striped capsule-shaped objects — are rougher, messier and less precious than the work one tends to associate with the Finish Fetish ethos. Though geometric in shape, with smooth, clean edges, they’re filled with what look like smudges, smears and stains: amorphous, seemingly arbitrary blobs of pigment, floating as if fossilized in the translucent resin.


The effect is darker, more psychological than the work of Kauffman or Pashgian. The wall-mounted pieces, which range from 1 to 3 feet square, have an air of woozy decadence, with gleaming flecks of phosphorescent pigment churned into fields of deep, glossy black. The slabs are pools of pallid skin tones, filled with smudges of color that are vaguely biological in character, evoking the realm of a petri dish. Even the capsules feel mildly sinister, with their sickly sweet colors and medicinal implications.

What’s most surprising about the work is how contemporary it looks. The cultivation of the stain, the smudge, the accident; the decadent quality; the almost slacker indifference to pictorial cohesion; the somewhat sour sensuality and dark psychological tone are all qualities that come to fruition in subsequent generations. One sees traces in O’Shea of artists as diverse as Paul McCarthy, Jason Rhodes, Sterling Ruby, Jedediah Caesar and Martin Durazo.

O’Shea’s subsequent obscurity is a bit of a mystery. But for a handful of anecdotal allusions — Peter Alexander called him a “real odd bird” in an oral history conducted in the 1990s — there is almost no evidence at all of his career online. Thanks to an untitled 1971 conceptual piece included at the start of the show, however, we know that at least one of his works found a place in, or, in any case, near, LACMA’s collection — and we gain some insight, perhaps, into his thoughts on posterity.

The piece — which consists of the image of a triangular, cast resin sculpture framed beside a notarized letter from the artist — was made in response to having won the museum’s New Talent Award in 1965, one condition of which was that the artist would donate a work to the museum. The photograph depicts the work he elected to donate. The letter attests to his having hurled that work over the fence and into the tar pits alongside the museum, where it presumably remains.

-- Holly Myers

Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, 8568 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-1100, through Nov. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.