There’s a strange futility about Roger Herman’s painting that works to its benefit. The more he tries to empty his work of content and focus on the banal, the richer his work becomes. His Expressionist paintings have often been upstaged by his enormous woodcuts in the past, but a group of six recent canvases strikes me as his strongest to date. Their success is the result of clarified structure, a solidification of the ennui that permeates the work, and the absence of the wan sentiment that never quite achieved its intended ironic effect.
Generally working from found images with a grimy urban palette, Herman produces large, roughly painted images that are dour and compelling. Two paintings of the same apartment building, hung side by side, emphasize the repetitive modules of the architecture and the relentless march of soul-less high rises. A pair of interiors, depicting an ordinary office from two different viewpoints also seems to comment on alienation and the oppressive ugliness of modern life. No people are in either setting, but we know what they look like and we hear their silence. When human beings do appear, in another work, they are faceless dancers who whirl like tops but express no feeling.
This mood is broken by the lurid color and fractured forms of two other canvases, one depicting a nude woman, the other an elephant. Here Herman’s search for what to paint in an age of disenchantment takes a turn toward the exotic and pitches itself off a precipice.
In the office area of the gallery is a batch of silly portrait photographs of Harry Kipper by Martin von Haselberg. They are actually self-portraits, for the photographer is Harry of the German comedic performance team called the Kipper Kids. They’re self-styled bad boys who reportedly like to gross out their audiences and throw food. The black-and-white photographs are about what you’d expect--amusing shots of Von Haselberg pulling faces, like a kid in front of a mirror. He changes outfits and settings--dressing modestly as he poses outside a shingled house and wearing a plaid suit in a plush boudoir--but it’s pretty much the same old shtick . (Larry Gagosian Gallery, 510 N. Robertson Blvd., to June 28.)