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Wilshire Center

“The city never looked that good,” a middle-aged man said enthusiastically the other day as he gazed at Larry Cohen’s gently idealized paintings of Los Angeles. If Cohen’s subjects were panoramas of Cincinnati or Passaic you can bet local interest would be a good deal milder. What he does, after all, is not terribly remarkable. It is a question of organizing familiar topography into views--the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, the visible area from the top of Westridge, downtown L.A. as seen from Micheltorena. To perform this act of local homage, as every landscape painter knows, you divide your canvas into horizontal zones of alternately dark and light areas and generalize the details.

Things perk up a bit when a specific light effect dominates a scene. In “View of Bay/Pacific Palisades,” the shadow that creeps inexorably across waves, the strip of sand, the street and the hills have the majestic effect of a visitation from a Supreme Being. But for the most part, these paintings seem little different in spirit from those turned out generations ago by the first sun-struck visitors to our shores.

If Cohen is obliged by modern-day realities to include signs of the congestedness of urban life, he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about it. Nor does he (like Wayne Thiebaud in San Francisco) invent new ways of painting the same old sights. Attractive, familiar, unthreatening, his paintings don’t recreate Los Angeles; they just copy it according to time-tested formulas. It’s too late in the day to be satisfied with that. (Jan Turner Gallery, 8000 Melrose Ave., to Feb. 4.)

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