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ART REVIEW : ‘Unfinished Picture’ Needs Some Work

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Frighteningly few contemporary artists make work so compelling that a single painting, slightly larger than easel-scale, is captivating, powerful or noteworthy enough to be an exhibition unto itself. For Llyn Foulkes, who hasn’t had a solo show here since 1983, even to think of mounting a one-work exhibition is so ridiculous that actually doing so just might make some kind of perverse sense.

Unfortunately, Foulkes’ solitary self-portrait at Patricia Faure Gallery cannot carry a show. In fact, the veteran L.A.-based painter’s new piece does not even rank among his strongest images: If placed next to paintings included in recent group shows, “The Unfinished Picture” would be the weak link.

As if Foulkes (or his dealer) were aware of the folly of showing only one work, a 45-minute video plays in a back gallery. In it, the artist carries on a frenetic, expressive and occasionally crazed monologue about the development of his work and the difficulties of being an artist in today’s treacherous world.

Fueled by bitterness and paranoia, the tape steals the show. It’s more gripping than the painting because it conveys the lunatic energy that animates Foulkes, shedding insights into his character that don’t come through in the painted portrait.

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The video also shows some earlier versions of “The Unfinished Picture,” before Foulkes cut it down to its present size, eliminated a figure and simplified the composition. If this work is truly unfinished, it might be more interesting in the future, when these elements (and some of the video’s lively psychodrama) make their way back into the picture.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., B7, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through Jan. 21.


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