Aficionados of figurative art in general and Joyce Trei man’s in particular will want to hustle right out for two meaty exhibitions surveying three decades of her art. A commercial gallery show of 101 drawings is like a silver and pearl pendant to a survey that concentrates on painting, just opened at USC.
The drawings, selected from Treiman’s own holdings, span the range of her earthy, domesticated expressionist fantasies with their ability to convincingly displace time. She transports us from affectionate portraits of friends and relatives done in her studio garage in the Pacific Palisades to the wild west or a luxury liner circa 1920 where a young redhead in a cloche hat is liable to startle her gentleman friend by wrapping him in a ravishing embrace worthy of Rudolph Valentino.
We know a swath of work like this by a master artist is capable of reminding us of how good she is, but it is a surprise that it can surprise us. Like other naturally gifted artists, Treiman has always had the ability to convince us that whatever present bunch of work we saw represented a level of excellence that couldn’t be improved upon. Yet, when we compare a perfectly fine drawing of 1959 to what flows forth later, it looks thin and reedy.
If all these drawings lean in one direction, it is toward the artist’s discovery that she is a painter more than a draftsman, that she sees the world more in the earthy terms of daubs and smudges than in the rational and elegant language of lines and patterns. If any group of these drawings unhinge our jaw more than others, it is a brace of brown gouaches where large gaggles of figures in deep space are rendered on small formats. They are at once so casual and so sweeping they recall nothing so much as a Dutch Old Master reincarnated. (Tortue Gallery, 2917 Santa Monica Blvd., to Feb. 6.)