Joe Fay's acrylic on polyurethane reliefs and screens seem to have been composed as a direct challenge to every formalist critic who ever extolled the virtues of Minimalism and Conceptualism. With their three-dimensional biomorphic and cookie-cutter forms, kinetic theatricality and thickly daubed paint in bright colors, Fay's works are deliberately eccentric and anti-intellectual. By blurring fantasy, urban violence, primitivism and childlike innocence, Fay is able to exorcise neurotic energy through seemingly safe and cathartic cartoonlike contexts, as if banal oversimplification will somehow make the fear and loathing more palatable.
The key work in his latest exhibit seems to be "Hospital." This claustrophobic melange of symbolic and literal imagery forces one's focus to shift constantly between a white-clad doctor hovering with gigantic syringe over a prostrate patient and the surrounding visual cacophony of serpents, death heads and coyotes. The predominant black-and-white palette of the figures is offset by a rich, blood-red background that seems to suggest an inexorable void, as if Fay has flirted with the possibility of death and somehow survived.
This subjective memento mori is paralleled in the remaining works by his usual social and regional themes, contrasting violence and catastrophe (gang fights, holdups, characters from "The Road Warrior") with a more positive life force epitomized through optimistic color and the rich symbology of the desert landscape. Fay's problem, however, continues to lie in his adherence to a visual style that is dogmatically populist. Like Frank Romero and Keith Haring, he attempts to reach a broad audience through a process that idiosyncratically combines baroque excess with figurative simplification. Given the rather obvious dialectic of his subject matter, however, we are left with an oeuvre that is commendably personal but, through its denial of formalist aesthetics, almost impossible to admire as emotionally or intellectually resonant art. But then, who cares what critics think anyway? Joe Fay obviously doesn't. (Roy Boyd Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to July 8.)