The tragic ferryboat disaster in the English Channel last weekend lends Steven Heino's new art a creepy prescience. It is a substantial body of 14 large paintings and wooden sculpture sheathed in metal from lithographic plates. Most of it deals obliquely with maritime disaster and all that that symbolizes.
A painting called "Source" depicts a boat in the corner of a shelter with a ladder leading down into water. Although painted with Minimalist simplicity, the scale of the work makes it impossible to tell if this is a bathtub-size dinghy or an ocean liner supporting a ladder as tall as the World Trade Center. It sets up the feelings of cozy security attached to a routine Channel crossing while striking a note as sinister as a black reef.
The scenario plays out in sculpture showing straight-back chairs and ladders bobbing and foundering in the deluge, anxious in their laconic mechanical draftsman's poetry, horrifying in their innocent banality--like a child's shoe lying in the midst of the gore after terrorists have wasted an airport ticket counter.
Heino clearly means to tap Neo-Expressionism's eschatological obsessions by employing a universal theme that has haunted man from Noah's Ark through German symbolism right down to H. C. Westermann. Alas, it is in the nature of the universal to border on the cliche. Sometimes Heino drifts toward hip illustration, creating an impression of imitativeness that is not relieved by the works' obvious debts to Joel Shapiro.
Heino's art is much better than its own worst leanings. The show's summary piece, "Armada," gains heroic scale and symphonic structure and shows that he can do anything he wants and do it well. It is now a question of not drowning in all that talent. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., through March 28.)