Wilshire Center

Among the art world's anxious witnesses and prophets of doom, F. Scott Hess is a force to consider. He paints complex figurative works--sometimes entire crowd scenes--teeming with uneasy life. We sense the aftermath of a disaster, an impending catastrophe or a pervasive nastiness that seeps through weirdly colored flesh.

In a current show of seven oils (two of them recently shown in "A Sense of Place" at USC), a rainstorm at Disneyand promises to develop into a holocaust, sending a carnival of cheery cartoon characters and distressed human beings scurrying for cover. And with good reason, for the clouds are working themselves into a Vesuvian boil. Among other works, a double portrait of Alice and Neil Ovsey turns the affable gallery owners into ghouls, while people drinking beer and roasting marshmallows around a campfire might be rehearsing for the witches' scene in "Macbeth."

Hess is an old-fashioned virtuoso painter in an age when such artists are few, so it seems particularly sad that the better he gets the more he hardens into a narrow view. He screams from a soap box instead of whispering an idea that won't go away. That doesn't make him a bad painter, just more limited than his talent deserves. (Ovsey Gallery, 126 N. La Brea Ave., to Feb. 6.)

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