John Berens debuts with a group of paintings called "Interiors" that very nearly have more literary than visual interest. In appearance, they are a notably competent updating of one of the more housebroken German Expressionists like, oh, Otto Mueller.

Berens has got down such pictorial conventions as crisp cubistic planes given icy clarity with white edges, and silhouettes that make figures seem forceful. But the subject matter is so cliche-ridden that it's almost endearing. It's full of spooky alleys, staircases and tenement-loft studios. These are full of a cadaverous young man skulking about in a raincoat--he who only takes it off to smoke and avoid the gaze of his girlfriend.

It's all so familiar that you begin to think every would-be writer and artist was 26 in the identical way. We were all depressed and insecure, but we wallowed in the vie de boheme and saw in ourselves a streak of glamorous evil, when in fact we were just nice kids trying to get along. The clue to that is that every once in a while Berens hints at that half-forgotten hero of stylish Existential suffering, Bernard Buffet. (Fiona Whitney Gallery, 962 N. La Brea Ave., to March 30.)

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