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ART REVIEW : Lari Pittman’s ‘Like You’: Bucolic, Bizarre Paintings

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most discussions of Lari Pittman’s work can be easily distilled into a stream of adjectives: hallucinatory, extravagant, desperate, wanton, cacophonous, seductive. Perhaps this is because Pittman’s paintings don’t so much do as are .

“Like You,” Pittman’s new, monumental, five-panel painting at Regen Projects, would illustrate an apocalyptic vision if it weren’t so bizarrely blithe. Perverse good cheer infiltrates a fractured cityscape in which Durer’s “Praying Hands” vie for attention with buxom, bearded belly-dancers clad in fetish wear decorated with Christmas colors. Open books proselytize for faith in the fragrant language of urban funk. Mini-domestic scenes, framed with what look to be pieces of a white picket fence, describe kitchen implements to the tune of fashion magazine copy: “Fabulous!” and “Drop Dead Ele-gant.”

So much for home and hearth.

Meanwhile, silhouetted helicopters whirl in the sky above, like sunburned stars or multiple Big Brothers, courtesy of the LAPD. Below, a river of life divides the city in two, the border marked with signposts illustrating any number of bucolic scenes. Anywhere else they would read as nostalgic fictions. Here, they are far more ambiguous.

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Pittman’s city is fueled on technology, but communication is difficult. Dot-matrix printers are rendered in muted colors that embarrassedly proclaim their obsolescence. Computer screens are dark. Screamingly bright bar codes lining the bottom of the image suggest that everything in the city has a price tag, but in their mimicry of Peter Halley’s much-hyped cell-and-conduit paintings of the 1980s suggest that the price is always too high.

Halley’s abstract paintings claimed to represent the networked relations that connect one alienated soul to another in a Postmodern dystopia. Pittman’s painting clearly eschews this kind of diagrammatic thinking; it cultivates visual rhythms instead of didactic oppositions.

“Like You” isn’t an either/or scenario or a millennium’s swan song. It’s just a song, and if you need an adjective, the song is bittersweet, as it has long been for Pittman.

* Regen Projects, 629 Almont Drive, (310) 276-5124, through Dec. 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Exquisite Mysticism: Leonora Carrington’s spin on Surrealism is on view at Remba Gallery, in a beautiful show of 15 lithographs. They are marked by an injudicious mix of cabala, Tibetan Buddhism, macabre fantasy and the artist’s own line, attenuated to the point of melting.

Most of the images are costume designs for a 1974 production of “The Dybbuk,” a play in which a young Jewish woman is haunted by the soul of her dead lover, whom she betrayed by marrying another. The story’s mysticism matches Carrington’s temperament well, and while the drawings are lovely when the artist depicts the characters’ period costumes, they soar when she illustrates the passage from the physical to the spiritual world.

In “Leye Returns Transformed Into the Dybbuk,” two women dressed in colorful gowns watch transfixed as the heroine’s celestial garment withers into feathery shreds and her face becomes a death’s head. In another image, the whole pretext of costume is abandoned, as Carrington isolates a massive head, suffocatingly overlaid with a maze-like design.

* Remba Gallery, 464 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-1101, through Jan . 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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