Chilling Faces: Robin Lowe's unnerving family portraits and landscape paintings at Marc Foxx Gallery explore the pent-up emotions lying beneath calm surfaces. Combining a smooth, nearly invisible style of brushwork and a fascination with the hidden emotional content of otherwise banal moments, Lowe's realer-than-real paintings are perhaps best described as psychological hyper-realism. His seemingly mundane facades betray the volatile inner lives of his subjects (mostly children), and the secret history of their immediate surroundings.
Using his own family snapshots as models, Lowe portrays ordinary-looking people from slightly off-kilter perspectives. In one, a gangly, big-eared boy wearing a baggy green T-shirt clasps a rifle to his side, as lurid waves of yellow, red and green pulsate vertiginously in the background. Observing his sinewy, preadolescent musculature and apparent ease with deadly weapons, you can't help but think of the recent rash of schoolyard massacres committed by similarly wide-eyed, freckle-faced youths.
Paired with this is another disturbing work, which features a pudgy young girl, her head cocked back at an angle that dissolves her chin and neck into a sea of putrid, reddish-colored, radiating folds and wrinkles. The girl's babyish, reindeer-and-spade-patterned jumper contrasts sharply with her narrowed eyes, pursed lips and unforgiving demeanor. She looks old beyond her years. The shocking ugliness of this painting suggests a barely contained rage masquerading as prudishness.
Images like these suggest an inner psychic reality that's out of scale with what's normally observable on the surface. Lowe hints at the frustration that seems to fester within his prepubescent subjects, even as they begin to take their first, tentative steps away from childish things and toward more complicated forms of desire.
Then again, children's desires are never as emotionally circumscribed as adults seem to think. Lowe gives these kids something they've been denied in real life: an aggressive, even perverse psychology that they are otherwise discouraged from expressing.
* Marc Foxx Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 857-5571, through July 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.