Models Talk: Painter Don Lagerberg once laughingly described himself as a casting director when he did a portrait. But that sense of who a person is and how that shapes the image has always informed his portraits. Perhaps it is not surprising that an artist tuned into the internal life of his subjects, one who spends long periods drawing from live models, would be struck by the vacuum inherent in most life drawing. Most nude models are ciphers--blank, idealized bodies that begin and end their existence on the page.
Lagerberg’s newest lithographs jokingly put an end to that bit of artistic conceit. Placing boxes of text beside black and white linear drawings, he apparently reveals the thoughts and lives of his models. That juxtaposition is immediately humorous because the dull, studious drawings are immeasurably enlivened by the lively minds and colorful lives revealed by the copy.
There are levels within levels in this kind of unraveling of image. At the base, there is an incisive critique of an art education system that tutors students by making them draw from life but encourages skills that omit the real life in what they draw. But Lagerberg’s argument goes further. His figures are the robust ideals of comic books, but the thoughts that circle their heads are the high-blown thoughts of philosophers trying to figure out the conundrum of time. While the idea that life models must enter a meditative state in order to stand motionless for such long periods of time does lead to conjecture about the depth of their entranced thoughts, the image’s Pop vacuity seems to negate that romantic notion.
If the thoughts are deep, the image is superficial. When the artist turns the fine art image (and all the nifty philosophy) into a ticking clock, the whole thing takes on a more absurdist edge. Strangely, however, this last twist, with all its associations of kitsch, immediately makes time real. Sartre, Augustine, Einstein and Shelley are all undone by the act of telling time. It’s an interesting play on that old maxim so frequently used to damn art, “I may not know what time is, but I know how to tell time.”
* Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, to April 26; (818) 789-6012. Closed Sundays and Mondays.