Jalali Sousan-Abadi's art, now showing at the Gail Michael Gallery in Studio City, is a fine example of art that is both highly detailed and not caught up in details. Although he attends to the fine points of creating scenes, and weaves ornamentation in and around the central imagery, the end result involves a more sensual, flowing quality than one might expect. It's art of deceptive expansiveness.
The artist, born in Iran and now living with his family in Los Angeles, makes art that is refreshingly free of cynicism or Western art-world tactics. Contemporary art observers, accustomed to decoding conceptual schemes, may, in fact, read more into the pieces than was intended.
"Moses," for example, depicts the Biblical character as a heroic figure holding sacred tablets. He is centered in a composition in which mortals, a robed angel and elements of nature float strangely. The piece conveys the irrationality of religious art as well as suggests the surreal nature of the new narrative art. No doubt, Sousan-Abadi veers toward the former milieu.
A Persian influence can be detected at a glance, in the religious iconography and the complex tapestry of visual elements. The loopy repetition of figures, animals and pure design touches settle into meshed patterns.
And the pattern often conveys a message. In "Reunion," a gathering of immediate family members is flanked by the faint impression of elders in the periphery. The family ancestry peers in from the beyond. The mosaic-like "Baby Dreams" is an idealistic allegory, in which fetuses hover in the center of an ornamental composition, as if nurtured in the bosom of family and nature.
Sousan-Abadi works in a variety of media, including Iris prints--a venerable color printing process that has grown more elaborate through the aid of computer graphics. The series of images that are spun off a work called "Beauty" show the potential of this system. A woman is fancifully framed by images of long-necked fowl and other creatures, with slight variations to each piece in the series.
Sousan-Abadi's exotic work is both fresh and rare in a regional gallery space. It delivers unexpected richness of expression, without losing its sense of balance and subtlety.
* Jalali Sousan-Abadi, through Saturday at Gail Michael Collection and Gallery, 12532 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. Gallery hours: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; (818) 755-1355.
Holy Landscapes: "Reflections of Jerusalem," a wide-ranging and striking exhibition now at the Finegood Gallery, looks at one of the world's mythic cities through the eyes of 17 artists and craftspeople. The exhibition is a timely one, linked to the celebration of the establishment of the city as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago.
The city's religious heritage is central to the exhibit, but the history of strife is accounted for as well. Visitors to the gallery are greeted by Micha Bar Am's poignant 1967 photograph "First Soldier at the Wall," in which a soldier with a yarmulke is also adorned with a necklace of bullets. The duality of Israeli life is etched into the image.
The prolific Raphael Abecassis supplies some of the show's most impressive work, from decorative watercolors and prints to three-dimensional decoupage pieces. Sometimes the artist shows a Chagall-like folk surrealism, preferring to view the city as an enchanted, sacred site and place of dreams rather than a piece of real estate.
In the back room of the gallery, Jonathan Harkan's expressionistic brushwork lends a very different, rougher-edged surface to portraits of Jewish scholars and the epic-scaled oil painting "Jacob's Dream," replete with angels, a symbolic ladder and a haze of mysticism. Jacky Tordjman's portraits, often of women, bear such titles as "She Is Clothed in Strength and Splendor."
Avner Moriah's serigraphs offer realistic bird's-eye views of the city, and Eve Menes' watercolor landscapes lean in an impressionistic direction. Some artists contribute personalized objects of Judaica. Jason Feld's silver "Elijah Cup" cleverly combines imagery of Egyptian pyramids and a Passover goblet, melding the cultures of historical adversaries. Linda Sharlin shows her menorah made of glass, while sculptor Gary Rosenthal's menorah is fashioned from lean, twisting strands of metal.
No easily definable viewpoint comes across in "Reflections of Jerusalem," but such is the nature of artistic subjectivity. It's an exhibition in commemoration of a city with a huge legacy and a volatile present, both subject to broad interpretations.
* "Reflections of Jerusalem," through Dec. 20 at the Finegood Gallery, at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Center campus, 22622 Vanowen St. in West Hills. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Call (818) 587-3218.