Photo-collage portraits by L.A. artist Joan Weber come to life when we know the story behind them. At first glance these look like the stuff printed on T-shirts sold at beach boardwalks. We notice silk-screened black-and-white photos of youths--some fair and elite, others street kids looking desperate. These images are combined with helter-skelter superimposed photos of freeways, maps, dark ghetto doorways, wealthy Malibu beachfronts, bits of fabric patterning, globs of intentionally untasteful colors that move over surfaces like the Blob--ingesting a facial feature here, highlighting detail there.
For most of her long career Weber has made politely tame photo portraits of the very rich. Simultaneously, she’s taught college art to gifted but struggling minority youths who for fate and finances go no further than their grimy neighborhoods. Frazzled by the extremes, she created this suite juxtaposing portraits of the beach-romping sons of the ultra wealthy with images of her students surrounded by images from their very different world. Technically intense, the works involve silk screening photos onto transparent acetate, superimposing layers of texture and other photo, then enlarging the composition in movie backdrop fashion, and finally working into the finished product with everything from car paint to bleach to Prisma pencils. They’re also noteworthy if sad reminders that the only place these youths will chance to meet is inside Weber’s imagination. (Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, to March 29.)