Santa Monica

Anyone unfamiliar with the abstract painting of New Yorker Harvey Quaytman but up on the current art fads is likely to take him for a practitioner of Neo-Geo. He usually paints big crosses that divide canvases into four equal squares and often works in black and white only. First these works look like such casual knock-offs of Russian Constructivism that you figure Quaytman is one of these kids doing deadpan copies of the past to prove originality is kaput. Then you notice the subtlety and ease of his grammarian’s interior monologue and realize this guy knows what he is doing.

Quaytman, 51, has been at this for years and the practice shows. With his easy byplay of simple shapes--like a cross that is first a couple of girders that turn into an open intersection or the crossbars on a window-pane that suddenly retreat and let the buildings outside come inside--he is liable to remind West Coast artniks of John McLaughlin.

Quaytman’s is a kind of painting that purposefully eludes words and confines itself to the condition of chamber music playing endless variations on visual themes. His version is that of a soft-hearted absolutist. He comes on all rigid like Malevich and then plays in bits of gritty paper and overlapped edges that push the soft pedal and add the astringency of a smart pianist spicing up a composition that’s too four-square. (HoffmanBorman Gallery, 912 Colorado Ave., to Jan. 30.)