Roger Brown's painting looks like it sprouted from the mind of a grown-up who never outgrew his love of cartoons or his fascination with cutting out accordion designs. The crowd at a football game is dotted with identical heads. Figures seen in windows are reduced to black silhouettes in the glare of bright yellow light, while scenes unfold in strips or compartments resembling film frames. The women who live in a Mies van der Rohe high rise wear '40s hair styles. So do the screaming occupants of little gray boxes that are threatened by a giant octopus who descends from a theatrical sky.
That's the fun part of the Chicago artist's work--recently seen in a retrospective at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art and now updated in recent paintings. The tough side is social criticism that takes humorous swipes at the deadening effects of subdivisions and international-style apartments and at a faceless society that presents itself anonymously at public spectacles or fits itself into types. Brown spells them out in one small painting: Mr. Fashion Pants, Mr. Beauty Body, Mr. I Tried to Call You but Your Line Was Busy, Mr. I'll Hang Up and Call Him Right Now, Miss Making a Buck and Selling It Twice, Mr. Biding My Time. You know these folks; you may have seen them in the mirror, but Brown hangs them up in a shooting gallery like so many sitting ducks.
Brown's art can seem facile because it's so accessible, and it can run thin--as in "Moscow Visit," where a space-needle restaurant invades the world of onion domes. But more often than not he's on the button as he sends up urban madness in a suitably vernacular style. (Asher/Faure, 612 N. Almont Drive, to Feb. 13.)