Marc Pally has always pursued a thoughtful dialectic between figuration and abstraction, painting and sculpture, mitigating the formal purity of shape and edge by the occasional concession to emotive gesture. This often led to conceptually fascinating but somewhat stiffly rendered works that could never seem to make up their mind whether they were real stylistic hybrids or mere exercises in historical quotation.
Pally’s current exhibit goes a long way to solving this dilemma, not by forging an artificial synthesis of conflicting ideas, but by recognizing the validity, perhaps inevitability, of simultaneous and separate vocabularies. The earlier three-dimensional reliefs have disappeared, replaced by sketchy, almost incomplete mixed-media works that refer back to the biomorphic and geological abstractions of early Matta and Gorky. This is less an end in itself, however, than a springboard for Pally’s more ambitious attempts to reconcile order with automatism, and the transitional state of the creative process with the fait accompli of the art object.
The effect is a genuine contradiction: both unsettling and strangely reassuring. Overripe succulents, complex decorative doodles, sinewy calligraphies, cubistic geometries and erotically suggestive organisms either overlap or float in isolation against neutral backgrounds, refusing to coalesce as structurally integrated compositions. Forms disappear off the edge of the canvas, drawing attention to a broader sense of space that the picture frame is inadequate to contain or define.
Indeed, the entire exhibit looks like it’s in a constant state of flux. Each canvas, with its mixture of detailed vignettes and quickly rendered cartoons, could easily be seen as a blueprint for a wealth of ideas that have yet to be worked out. Surprisingly, the whole package holds together simply because we have become accustomed to reading the work as a system of loosely structured signs. Pally has discovered that the real meaning to a visual “text” lies in the spaces between things, not necessarily in the things themselves. (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 4)