To step into Maxwell Hendler's exhibition of 15 new paintings at Patricia Faure Gallery is to feel like a kid in a candy shop. Thrilled silly by the dazzling display of sumptuous colors, each more splendid than the last, it's hard to believe how much intense, lip-puckering pleasure the L.A.-based painter has packed into his mostly small monochrome panels.
As a kid, candy shops made me giddy not because they excited my desire to eat everything I could see, but because of their incomprehensible scale. If I had been reading Immanuel Kant instead of "Curious George," I would have said that candy shops put me in the presence of the sublime.
Hendler's exquisite abstractions do the same thing. Combining experiences of pure joy with intimations of unfathomable vastness, they bring the intensity of childhood excitement to adults. Ravishing viewers with their beauty, they reveal that simple pleasures and complex thoughts go hand in hand.
A painting by Hendler is a very simple object. Each consists of a rectangle of Masonite, over which the artist has poured a single thin layer of deeply tinted resin, or two thick layers that form a semitranslucent surface. He then devotes hundreds of hours to sanding and polishing the outrageously artificial slabs of color, giving them a reflective sheen and sense of depth that would turn the best automobile detailer green with envy.
Hendler's uncanny palette defies description. As if it were a sheet of acid-yellow Jello, the strangely radiant surface of "Little Tip Top" prevents words from sticking to it. "Really Green" makes language look like a rudimentary tool when it comes to accounting for color's tongue-tying brilliance.
And "Minerva," whose shimmering pink looks delicious, sounds absolutely unappetizing when described as a combination of the colors of salmon and watermelon. Nowhere is Hendler's virtuosity as a colorist more evident than in the subtle spectrum he manages to draw out of white, from the dove gray of "Contessa" to the yellow tinge of "Cythera."
Hendler's sexy works are simultaneously sophisticated and simple. They demonstrate that when the pleasures of painting are at stake, words are overrated, and kids in candy shops are better guides than many critics.
* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through July 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.