At a time when too many artists get too much attention for acting like fundamentalists, it’s ROUNDrefreshing to see a fundamentalist get a little attention for acting like an artist.
In a rollicking solo debut at Patricia Faure Gallery, the Rev. Ethan Acres combines good ol’ time religion with edgy contemporary art in a stirring mix that will puzzle some, anger others and move many. The best thing about the ordained minister’s marriage of art and religion is that it’s fun--and doesn’t make fun of anyone.
Smart-aleck irony and self-centered millennialism have no place in the charismatic preacher’s profoundly democratic interpretation of the Good Book’s teachings. Imagine a faith or a place of worship in which Dennis Rodman and the most devout Mormon could stand side by side, and you’ll have some idea of how all-embracing the Las Vegas-based Acres’ art is.
Just outside the gallery’s entrance sits the Highway Chapel, an old trailer home that has been converted into a mobile house of worship. Complete with pulpit, altar and a framed copy of Acres’ honorary doctorate of divinity, this church-on-wheels also features a mirrored ceiling, neon lights, purple carpeting, fake stained glass windows and a transparent crucifix filled with bubbling holy water, tinted bright red. Nearly as outlandish as a glass-bottomed Cadillac, Acres’ holy vehicle even sports see-through wheel wells.
This combination of down-home religion and Vegas-style glamour may seem inappropriate, but it has impressive historical precedents. Like the early Christians who spoke in tongues or staged miracles, Acres bases his art on the simple wisdom that you’ve got to get people’s attention before you can convince them of anything.
Inside the gallery, this purposeful fun intensifies. Made of pink and gold lame, blue vinyl and artificial leopard skin fabric, four big stuffed Easter bunnies give playful shape to the notion that religion is for sinners. A large crocheted camel unravels as it passes through the eye of a needle, reminding viewers that the rich must change their ways if they’re to make it to heaven.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse make a dazzling appearance as a set of shaped paintings, as does a nightmarish version of the Whore of Babylon, drawn in silicon on holographic vinyl. In the rear gallery, three computer-generated prints show Acres blessing two dogs that were run down in the road and a dinosaur that suffered a similar fate by falling into the La Brea tar pits.
The show’s centerpiece is the reverend’s most ambiguous work. Titled “The Lamb of God,” this sculpted beast with seven glowing eyeballs and 10 curved horns emits Gregorian chants from its belly as it spins in circles, like some long-lost relative of the carousel ponies that delight children everywhere.
A fairly literal rendition of the way Christ is described in the Book of Revelations, this strange piece of theater will stop you in your tracks, whether or not you know your Scriptures. Asking big questions and leaving the answers up to every one of us, Acres’ supernatural lamb gets people to lay their beliefs on the line. That’s been art’s job for centuries, and religion’s job for a little bit longer.
* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through July 5. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Shifting Images: “Recent Pictures,” a smart little exhibition at ACME Gallery, brings together the works of four young artists to point out that pictures do not always depict things. The nine paintings and two Cibachrome prints in this focused show treat abstraction as a flexible category that allows those who use it to flirt with representational imagery from various distances.
Thomas Baldwin’s squeaky-clean C-prints begin as snapshots of the city. The artist then traces the shapes of the things in the pictures, feeds these silhouettes into a computer, alters their composition and gives each shape a lurid matte color that makes the overall image look like a coloring book diagram that has been filled in by a space alien with heat-sensitive vision.
Monique Prieto also uses a computer to lay out her crisp acrylics-on-canvas. Nearly all of these perversely jubilant works seem to spring from a giddy cartoon world that is unsullied by gravity, shadows or other imperfections that might slow one down. With razor-thin drips and oddly buoyant architecture, “Fair Warning,” shown here, is no exception.
Composed of the shapes of stains found on studio floors, Ingrid Calame’s “Bzzt PAP!” could not be more literal in its references. Infinitely more intriguing than its mundane sources, however, this punchy enamel-on-panel with an onomatopoeic title charts a cartography of color that is both highly refined and industrial-strength.
More concerned with the visual effects of materials than any type of image-making, David Patton’s seven glitter-sprinkled, resin-coated paintings on unprimed birch panel have the fewest links to the visible world. A little too fussy in their grunginess, these promising yet precious paintings round out a fine show in which all four artists take advantage of how slippery pictures can be.
* ACME Gallery, 1800-B Berkeley St., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5818, through July 5. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Urban Grit: Some kind of vital, almost primal force seems to pour forth from Anthony Hernandez’s supersaturated photographs at Craig Krull Gallery.
Light appears to emanate from these gorgeously printed images, whose deep black frames add to the impression that each one has been fitted in a shallow light box and artificially illuminated from within. Of course none of them has, but you have to look very closely to dispel this impression. Even then, the best photos have the presence of textured reliefs, whose rugged surfaces have been artfully carved and meticulously painted to intensify their hands-on sensuality.
Most of Hernandez’s crystal-clear Cibachromes are tightly cropped close-ups of rocks, dirt or earth dug up at construction sites across Los Angeles. Other equally detailed images depict scarred walls, piled rubble or parts of the steel machinery that’s used to raze buildings. Disinterred roots, battered fragments of architecture and sharply geometric excavations bear witness to the relentless vigor with which cities are built, unbuilt and rebuilt.
Brutally simple and astonishingly exquisite, Hernandez’s photographs dispense with references to specific, identifiable digs. Bypassing such cultural or historical particularities, these stunning works take viewers even more deeply into the physical details of urban life’s gritty foundation.
* Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through June 28. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Small Wonders: Michael Dvortcsak is a virtuoso painter whose subjects are not as compelling as his capacity to build beautifully layered surfaces that form bodies, vessels and landscapes with an almost sculptural presence. At Jan Baum Gallery, 33 labor-intensive canvases from the past 18 months, along with eight paintings from 1992-95, show this prolific, Ojai-based artist to be a dutiful student of the Renaissance whose works struggle to be relevant to the contemporary world.
Dvortcsak’s best paintings are his smallest. These masterfully crafted images of ancient vessels and brooding seascapes are solid and mysterious, filled with passages that flaunt his technical facility yet still leave room for open-ended interpretations. At this scale, the 58-year-old painter’s chiseled torsos are moderately effective but not nearly as strong as his still lifes and landscapes.
When Dvortcsak’s figures reach approximately life-size scale, they falter. Four nudes aspire to a type of classical beauty that is humanized by individual nuance, but they come off as stiff depictions of department store mannequins.
The artist’s largest paintings are even more problematic. Claustrophobic collages of Medieval religion and modern humanism, they lack the vitality of Dvortcsak’s more straightforward studies of vessels, torsos and seascapes.
* Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., (213) 932-0171, through July 26. Closed Sunday and Monday.