Martin Facey, a gifted young Los Angeles painter currently teaching at the University of New Mexico, has seemed to hover on the edge of breakthrough for the last couple of years. In the meantime, his work hasn’t lacked for interest; it’s chock-full of intriguing painterly passages, weighty symbols and more layers of consciousness than can be easily assimilated.
The anxious contemporary dream world that Facey paints is so faceted that viewers often find themselves peering into one section or another instead of seeing the whole painting. As if to make things even more complicated, Facey often punctures his relatively flat paintings with illusionistic insets, thus contradicting a broad, ethereal space with narrow tunnels.
None of this is done by accident; in paintings that are simultaneously abstract and representational Facey means to make his metaphorical visions collide--as they do in dreams--and to present modern dilemmas without preaching. His restrained emotional stance is admirable, and his uncommonly honest work is partly born of a resistence to being boxed in by art labels.
His way has been to develop a personal vocabulary of symbols--crypt figures, hands holding cigarettes, forked trees, dangling telephones and chunks of cities and forests--and he has done such a good job of it that they are remembered long after the paintings are forgotten. That makes me suspect that one way out of this psychological thicket is for him to examine these themes individually. Any one of them seems more than capable of holding up a painting.
Concurrently, Edie Ellis shows a harmonious suite of “Landscape Books” that unfold, accordion-style, into painted mountain shapes. They are accompanied by poetry printed on similarly folded mountain pages. The painting runs sure-footed through a repertoire of styles, from broad-brushed strokes to cloudlike poofs of soft color. Her poetry is disarmingly simple; by describing characteristics of a place or time, she transmits its feeling. (Tortue Gallery, 2917 Santa Monica Blvd., to June 28.)