Figurative painting has been making a comeback since the late 1970s, either as a reaction to Post-Conceptualism's denial of originality, or as a retrogressive attempt to restore the painterly tradition of early Modernism. Carolyn Fox's new works fit into the latter category, drawing upon the Fauve palette of Matisse and the Oriental motifs of the 19th-Century Romantics to depict languid, reclining figures in exotic locales.
Set against Mediterranean vistas and surrounded by luxuriant foliage or decorative draperies, these latter day "odalisques" are rendered in an awkward, brushy style that seems to be self-consciously "expressionistic." Unfortunately, this is the 1980s, not the 1880s. There is no reactionary Paris Salon to outrage; Matisse, Gauguin, and Rousseau have already exploited faux-naif primitivism and flattened perspective to overturn the tenets of classical formalism. Lacking any structural innovation or narrative tension, these works are forced to fall back on the contrived kinesis of surface texture and vibrant color. Unfortunately, contemporary aesthetics are far too sophisticated and self-reflexive to accept work such as this at face value. (J. Darraby Gallery, 8214 Melrose Ave., to Jan. 15.)