David Deutsch's landscape paintings at Blum & Poe Gallery make you feel that something illicit is taking place right before your eyes. The minute you see any one of these modestly scaled pictures of trees, streets and buildings, you begin to rapidly scan its surface, nervously searching for something that might explain the sense of doom building inside you.
The longer you look, the more desperate the search becomes. Your eyes race around Deutsch's images, following driveways and lanes, peeking through foliage, peering into windows and snooping around corners.
The manner in which these works are painted matches the urgency of your detective work. Slightly blurred, like out-of-focus photographs, they obscure insignificant details as they give physical form to paranoia's suffocating grip.
Three black-and-white landscapes recall reconnaissance photos shot from low-flying airplanes. Three predominantly monochrome canvases--in dim green, blunt magenta and muted yellow--have the iridescent coloring of infrared satellite images. And an icy blue painting of a grove of pine trees under a starless sky depicts the world as if seen through night-vision goggles.
In all of Deutsch's pictures, surveillance technology developed for the military spills into the private sector. Despite such nefarious associations, it's impossible to put your finger on just what it is about these paintings that stirs your apprehension.
Eventually, you realize that they do not depict illicit activities but cause such events to happen.
Turning the tables, Deutsch's images transform the act of looking into a morally ambiguous activity with potentially malignant consequences.
After all, to feel like a spy in front of otherwise unremarkable landscapes is to feel strange indeed. Drawing viewers into a world both banal and mysterious, these engaging yet alienating paintings echo and amplify modern life's poisonous beauty.
* Blum & Poe Gallery, 2042 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 453-8311, through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays.