What I like best about Richard Shaffer’s paintings is their private pockets of goodies. Dig into them and you’ll be rewarded with intricately structured shadows and poetic passages that make it perfectly clear why artists become addicted to oil paint. The sheer beauty of the material and its malleability make it a wonderful vehicle for intimacy.
Intimacy, however, is not what runs out to meet you in this two-gallery show of paintings and mono prints by a Stanford-trained artist who lives in Texas. Austerity, reserve, intellectual rigor and the ghosts of Velasquez and Spanish still lifes are more in evidence. Shaffer’s currently exhibited interiors grew from actual spaces and objects in his studio but they have taken on a life of their own. Window and door frames, a dark curtain, geometric volumes, tools, a suspended lead weight, little reproductions of artworks and collaged bits of poetry are all set out for examination as related elements.
In a series of small paintings called “Bodegons,” objects are piled up on low shelves or table tops; in larger works (up to 16 feet wide), scattered objects punctuate vast spaces and imply a physical and contextual structure. “A Low Door,” for example, combines an image of a curtained studio door with references to art history, geometric shapes and some lines from Evelyn Waugh on “a low door in the wall . . . which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden.”
Shaffer has long presented an impressive front but his work has suffered from stiffness and an intensity that sometimes looked like dour pomposity. Now he seems to have lightened up and let some air into paintings that keep you looking. “Jupiter Painting,” one of the most recent pieces, suggests significant growth in the direction of freedom from past strictures. According to the artist, the painting emerged from a poem he wrote while vacationing in Europe--a piece of trivia, perhaps, but it coincides with the work’s emotional resonance. (L.A. Louver, 55 N. Venice Blvd. and 77 Market St., to May 31.)