Eric Orr has long been associated with such light-and-space artists as Larry Bell, Robert Irwin and James Turrell, and the label is not altogether inaccurate. Orr has always pursued a phenomenological exploration of perception, pushing retinal responses to the limit through ingenious installations or through paintings that blur space via complex relationships of color and gesture.
There is also another Eric Orr, the mystical shaman, the alchemical philosopher, whose preoccupations with ritual and the properties of space-time and negative space have led to a body of work that is superficially benign and elegant, sucking the viewer in with Zen-like calm and innocence, yet simultaneously dark and fetishistic.
“North of Yesterday,” the generic title of Orr’s latest exhibit, continues his ongoing concern with elemental experience and the void, thus marking a direct evolution from his early “Mu” or “Zero” series. The show’s centerpiece is “Double Vision,” a Doug Wheeler-like installation that delineates an impression of infinite space through framing. Although we are eventually disappointed to discover that what appears to be a glimpse into the void is actually a contrived “window” onto the gallery’s back wall, the piece sets us up for a studied reading of the accompanying paintings.
Audiences familiar with Orr’s work will find few surprises here. The overlapping, abstract color fields that oscillate between positive and negative space are, as usual, framed in lead, gold-leaf, an inset layer of Orr’s own blood and occasional crushed radio parts, so that alchemical, physical and perceptual properties overlap and interact. What is important is not so much Orr’s success at transcending either his materials or his metaphors as his attempts to place abstraction within a historical context of ritual and “magic.” Yes, we can see through the artifice or rationalize the concepts, but for certain moments we are lost in the work, pushing toward at least the beginnings of “belief,” taking part in the performance. What Orr seems to be saying is that art, strings and all, is the 20th Century’s vehicle to Nirvana. (James Corcoran, 8223 Santa Monica Blvd., to Oct. 18.)