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Gallery Moves Up and Out, but Still Calls Garage Home : The exhibit hall for lesser-known artists has moved 1 1/2 blocks down Fairfax Avenue

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Thomas Solomon, the man who brought Los Angeles the art gallery in a garage, has moved up if not out of his neighborhood.

He’s still showing the art of young, lesser-known artists in a garage, but now he’s doing that in a refurbished mechanic’s garage built in 1927 on Fairfax Avenue. It’s just 1 1/2 blocks away from his old space that opened onto a back alley.

Solomon began exhibiting art in a two-car garage in November, 1988. By last summer, he had expanded into three more garages, but the exhibit space was still small. “At that point, I decided it was time to change and grow as the community and the artists that I work with are doing,” Solomon said.

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“Los Angeles is a great city, and there is great art being produced here,” the native New Yorker said. “In the old garage, I didn’t show an artist’s work more than once. It was 20 exhibits per year, each of them on for two weeks, for almost three years. The next step for me was to find a bigger but similar type of space to exhibit larger-scale work and develop careers of artists I had shown and other artists I am interested in showing.”

Art collector and friend Jeff Kerns showed Solomon the space on Fairfax, which Solomon said was abandoned and dirty. Kerns had been thinking of turning it into a studio and living space for himself. “Jeff is a great friend, and we came to an understanding that I would rent it from him, and we’d see what would happen,” Solomon said.

With architect Chris Hubert and his partner, Andie Zelnio, Kerns and Solomon have renovated the space, keeping old windows, skylights and the roof, evoking the character of the old garage. “I felt this space with art would be so incredible in the way that the old garage was with the old ceiling and the natural light. I didn’t want to fuss it up. I didn’t want to overpower the art.”

Opening this weekend is a solo show of sculptor Robert Millar’s gold leaf on aluminum paintings. Solomon had given Millar a show two years ago.

“The new works are reliefs, painterly sculptures that use light as a medium and have an architectural quality,” Solomon said. “They’re beautiful and seductive with the gold leaf but tough in a way too because of the aluminum.”

Solomon has planned a more standard exhibition schedule for the coming year, with each show running about 3 1/2 weeks. And he will exhibit more well-known artists than he has in the past. But he remains committed to giving solo shows to young, unknown or lesser-known artists.

“And every month, I’ll have a mixture of special installations of new work by younger and older artists in a projects room upstairs, " he added. “In my old garage, if I liked somebody’s art, I could say, ‘Let’s work together in a month or two,’ not eight months or a year later. I like that spontaneity, and I will have it with the projects room.

“It was hard to give up the old space, to let go of something that meant so much to me. But I want to take chances and work in different manners. The art that I’m interested in is challenging, and I hope that with this space, a new audience will see and experience the work.”

Thomas Solomon’s Garage, 928 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 654-4731. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE: Every artist chooses from the whole of art history the ideas, styles and techniques that prove personally meaningful and exciting, and blends them into his or her work. Flemish artist Jan Vanriet goes several steps further in a show of watercolors at the Wenger Gallery on La Brea Avenue, paying homage to the artist himself or a whimsical but affectionate takeoff on a well-known work by the artist.

Almost 20 watercolors, most of them with an underlay of pencil, were painted over a 16-year period, beginning in 1975 with the work “Las Meninas,” a spoof on Velasquez’s famous painting of the same name, both of which include a portrait of Velasquez.

Vanriet often uses photographs of the artists he admires as a catalyst for his images. His 1980 “Homage a Matisse,” an acrylic on canvas, was based on the famous photograph “Matisse and His Model” by Brassai, which was taken when Matisse was an old man. Vanriet made a couple of changes though, painting a curtain in Matisse images, and highlighting a few paint stains on Matisse’s painter’s coat with bright colors.

His portrait of Modigliani shows a cherubic young artist just arrived in Paris. Klee iconography surrounds a portrait of Klee. His still-life tribute to Cezanne includes apples, which Cezanne painted throughout his life, with an original twist: He counterpoised the apples with radishes. “I don’t think any other artist would think of doing that,” gallery owner Sigmund Wenger said. “Of course, he’s Flemish, and the old Dutch and Flemish artists put everything in their still-lifes.”

Vanriet, who lives in Antwerp, shows in Paris every few years. There, he once met David Hockney, who came to an opening of his show. Two or three years later, Hockney had a show in Paris and Vanriet made it his business to go to Paris to the opening. It was raining there, and Hockney ran in from the downpour, only to be greeted by a telephone call. Vanriet photographed Hockney on the phone, still in his raincoat, and returned home to paint “Hockney at Claude Bernard, Paris,” 1985. “He did it as Hockney would have done it, so people come in here and without looking at the checklist, they think it’s a Hockney self-portrait,” Wenger said.

Vanriet’s recent work is more expressionistic and sociopolitical, and less decorative. It includes an oil canvas portrait of one of his favorite subjects, poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, and a “Self-Portrait at Age 50,” in which the 43-year-old artist looks at himself in the future. His work is in the collections of the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego (formerly La Jolla) Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Jan Vanriet: Art About Artists” at the Wenger Gallery, 828 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 464-4431. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Aug. 14. WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE!: If you are seeking a respite from our drought-parched environment, the place to go is the Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica, where an abundance of water awaits you in the painting and watercolors of three featured artists in the show aptly called “Water.”

Mary Cady Johnson and Priscilla Bender-Shore, both of Santa Barbara, and Jean Edelstein of Venice share more than the common theme of water. Each artist has depicted in her own style women and men reveling in the joys of water.

Johnson, who is in her mid-70s and an ardent swimmer, has used a variety of media including oils, pastels, acrylics and felt pens to create her “Swimming Pool Series,” almost a dozen works on paper that embody abstract figures in such scenes as infants frolicking with inner tubes, swimmers racing or doing the backstroke, and lovers floating in a deep turquoise pool. In most of these works, beautiful flowering plants envelop the figures.

“Her color sense is hot, vibrant and lovely,” said Beate Bermann-Enn, Frumkin Gallery director. Each work from this series is hung in configurations of four, six, eight or nine pieces, which together give the impression of painted tiles in a swimming pool.

Edelstein and Bender-Shore were inspired by their travels. Edelstein began her series titled “Bathers” during her six-month stay in Bali. Fascinated by the native women who bathed twice daily in the island’s stream and waterfalls, she made sketches of them washing their “abundant, glorious hair” while she was there, and finished the small, 10- by 7-inch drawings with pastels over watercolors when she returned home.

Bender-Shore was one of the first recipients of the Artists at Giverny Award, which gave her the opportunity to work at Claude Monet’s studio in Giverny, France, for six months. In her series titled “The Water Frieze,” several nude and draped figures, most of them women, are gathered together entering, leaving and floating in tranquil waters. The frieze is a 40-foot-long work in four panels on canvas. “They have a dreamy, subdued calm reminiscent of Monet’s gardens and waterlilies,” Bermann-Enn said.

Frumkin said serendipity brought this show together when Bender-Shore and Johnson both approached her at about the same time in their water works. “I thought it would be great to come into the gallery in the middle of summer and see a show about water,” Frumkin said.


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