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GALLERY REVIEWS : Works on Display Indicate New L J Is Not Answer to Showplace Gap

Times Staff Writer

Judging by a show of work by Ann Thornycroft and Frank Scott Lloyd--which remains through Saturday--the new LJ Gallery in Newport Beach does not appear to be the magic bullet the low-profile Orange County commercial gallery scene so desperately needs.

Part of the problem is the gallery itself. With 1,100 square feet parceled out among three small rooms, the space looks cramped and undistinguished, like a string of junior-executive offices with the furniture removed. Owners Steve Johnston and Mark Leysen say their idea is to show smaller-scale contemporary California art. Certainly, although many artists today work on a massive scale, there are others who do significant work that doesn’t sprawl all over the place. But the current exhibit of work is really dullsville.

Thornycroft, an English artist relocated in Los Angeles, does paintings of primary-color arcs laid out on top of grid formations. This approach acknowledges the rigors of serial imagery, enjoys a certain degree of painterly looseness and controlled accident (the drips of paint)--but often winds up looking blandly decorative. It’s as if the ideas the artist started out with politely cede their authority at some point to the tactile, rhythmic process of painting.

In “Ananda,” for example, a steady hand has swiped a path through each of the thick, brightly colored multicolor impasto wedges sitting on a blue grid. In “Mandorla,” soft white, watery spills of paint trickle through the grid of rectangles, like spills of milk. A group of watercolors continues the arc-and-grid idea, sometimes with the addition of fine white hatch-marks. Other works are monoprints (one-of-a-kind prints) featuring layers of wide-brushed bright color; in “M-47" they part to reveal a luminous yellow-white central area.

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Lloyd is Mr. One-Track Approach. His paintings and cutout constructions on wood and paper are all of branch-like grids pulled out of alignment, as if seen in a fun house mirror. Variations consist of changes in the color-combinations, penciled-in contour lines or superimpositions of one grid on another. The results seem more mechanical than inspired.

Paintings by Ann Thornycroft and paintings and constructions by Frank Scott Lloyd remain through Sept. 30 at LJ Gallery, 359 San Miguel Drive, No. 105, Newport Beach. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Information: (714) 720-0133.

A group show at the John Thomas Gallery in Fullerton by young artists from California and the Southwest offers mostly routine stuff with a few glimmers of promise.

Susan Cash makes table-top decorator doodads in copper, ceramic and gold leaf. Lisa Spivak’s mixed-media constructions of houses in post-modern turquoise, salmon and gray suffer from a poverty of invention. The “surprises” they reveal remain on the cutesy level: shadows of occupants cast on the outside walls; dolls’ hands attached to the walls and floor.

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Alexia Markarian seems obsessed with burning buildings, a would-be portentous theme that was done to death by young Neo-Expressonist artists of the ‘70s. In a shaped canvas, “Who Does Not Burn,” a rosy, boxy building pours out yellow tails of fire under a blue sky filled with rows of oval clouds. The artist’s material shifts slightly in “Sconce,” a triangular painting with a green, writhing candelabra that looks weirdly organic. The bizarre, not-quite-definable subject of this work looks like a more fruitful direction.

Daniel Callis attempts a major statement in “Robert’s Vision.” At the bottom of the two-part painting, a soft glow hovers alongside a sleeping youth. The spiritual sector above contains a bald praying figure with a stylized green halo and a dry tree balanced in a blue spiral. The difficulty with this and other large-scale mixed-media works by Callis is that their range of imagery is too limited and cliched to carry real metaphysical weight.

The situations and individuals in Daryl Childs’ rough-hewn pastel drawings radiate a thoughtful engagement with social issues. In “Truth and Logic,” a sheathed hand in a crowd of big homely faced figures holds out a book with no pages. Is the subject book banning? Prejudice? Ignorance? It’s not quite clear, but the image is oddly compelling. “Queuing to the 21st Century” presents a group of men of indeterminate race who grimace, rant and cast their eyes down, as if fearful or suspicious of what lies ahead.

“Outside Influences: Diverse Work from Sundry Places” remains through Oct. 28 at John Thomas Gallery, 209 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Information: (714) 870-6471.

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