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The Creative Male

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Men do art. Three little words, each loaded in its own way. Giving the current group exhibition at the Lankershim Arts Center such a title seems like a bit of irony-laden provocation on the part of artist-curator Preston Craig, emphasizing the active verb tense and a veiled sexual reference.

But there’s more on the other side of the colon, the full title being “Men Do Art: Icons for the Millennium (Observations, Discovery, Transformations, Release, Spirituality).” Somewhere between the clever brute force of the first phrase and the grandiose references of the second lies the essence of this show, a gathering of Los Angeles area artists who happen to be men, doing art.

Images and effects are writ large in much of this work, imbued as it is with in-your-face intensity. With large, gregarious figurative distortions by the artist called Man One, Hollywood-cum-Hades mythology by Michael Bernier and steel and aluminum-fitted relief sculptures by Burt Severy, this is not work in pursuit of gentle, discreet passions.

The art in the large main gallery packs a punch, but the entryway is deceptively calm. In the window space, facing Lankershim, David Galgano--the most whimsical artist of the lot--presents a pseudo-living room scene. His arty, kitschy creations include a table, lamp and rocking chair festively decorated with colorful patterns and bottle caps (a male-oriented collectible).

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The proud manly centerpiece of this “room,” though, is hanging on the wall. It is Galgano’s swordfish trophy (made of fiberglass) oddly decorated with paintings of butterflies and a beret-topped artist wandering in the desert. The two references--the macho Hemingway-esque pursuit of the big fish vs. the sensitive artist persona--collide, in a humorous way.

Curator Craig’s own work, in its relative quietude, also differs from that of most of the artists here. Conversant in computer art and intrigued by science fiction, Craig offers work that reflects both those aspects, mixing design elements and an illusory sense of space.

An air of mysticism also hovers over his work, sometimes to the point of distraction, as in pieces where faint, ghostly impressions of Native Americans and animals appear like visitations on everyday reality. This well-meaning tribute to bygone Americana doesn’t quite wash, whereas his computer-generated pieces, such as “The Dance--Will We Ever Really Understand,” have a stronger conceptual presence.

Strong is the word for Man One’s mixed-media paintings, which hang on one wall of the gallery in a kind of unofficial triptych. On either side are images of boys’ faces with exaggerated features and strange color manipulations. Because of the visual treatment and their large size, they appear vaguely menacing, as in family snapshots that have been tweaked with morphing software.

In the center is “Iron Man,” a looming portrait framed in crude strips of sheet metal. The subject’s face is a messy configuration of planes, angles and melting flesh. Is it the devil himself, or a metaphor for the proverbial corporate tyrant? Whoever he might be, this is a man of iron will and disfigured humanity.

Sculptor Severy melds images of sociopolitical and religious icons--Soviet despots, a paint-splattered Uncle Sam, Lucifer-in-the-box--with the tensile strength of metal materials to create pieces that question authority.

The intensity continues with Bernier’s paintings, full of implied religious, sexual and social tensions. Three paintings in the series called “Love the Process” depict a baby nursing, with only the unused breast identifiable as a human element, and relatively in focus. Otherwise, the scene is depicted as a fluid convergence of winding lines and rounded contours.

The large, loud paintings called “Rock,” “Paper,” and “Scissors” evoke a world in torment, between the earthbound angst of gridlocked traffic and, in “Scissors,” the scissor-lock of a nude woman’s legs around a man’s neck; Hell fire beckons below, as the man is caught in lust’s trap. There’s nothing subtle about this work, which draws upon Biblical themes and the visual sting of agitprop for its impact.

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What this show may lack in coherent messages concerning the role of gender in art, it makes up for in spectacle. As one of the most vivid shows yet to land in this fine art space, it complements the venue and points to a bright future for artistic life in NoHo.

BE THERE

“Men Do Art: Icons for the Millennium (Observations, Discovery, Transformations, Release, Spirituality),” through Sept. 27 at the Lankershim Arts Center Gallery, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3-6:30 p.m.; (818) 752-2682.


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