Howard Arkley's paintings depict the dreams stuff is made of. Warm, fuzzy and of the moment, these airbrushed canvases give substance to the emotional connections city dwellers forge with their immediate environments.
The Australian painter's interiors at Karyn Lovegrove Gallery have been lifted from furniture magazines and interior decoration brochures. But in Arkley's slightly out-of-focus pictures, a chair is never just a chair. Nor is a lamp merely a light source, nor a set of drapes simply a means of attaining a little privacy.
Furniture, rugs and architectural elements do their daily duties to provide functional comforts while simultaneously giving shape to fantasies and defining individualized lifestyles. The 48-year-old artist's U.S. solo debut celebrates the democratic aspects of high design.
What's most refreshing about Arkley's images is that they refrain from playing snobbish games of interior-decorating one-upmanship. Never following the rules for their own sake, his keyed-up canvases are sprayed in a palette many viewers might think of as tasteless.
In one, a hot pink rug sits on a fiery red floor before a blazing orange credenza and a burgundy wall. In another, a lime-green wall and a lavender floor frame floor-length drapes on which is printed a black-and-white pattern of uncharacteristic crispness.
Equally kinky are Arkley's exteriors, with freeway overpasses rendered in delicate shades of pink, blue and dove gray, and Modernist apartment buildings done up in creamy, sorbet hues.
Two of the best paintings are close-ups of tract homes adorned with flowers and foliage. The meandering patterns that make up the contours of these stylized plants and trees play off the straight lines of the houses and sidewalks. Arkley softens their potentially harsh geometry by giving everything a gray outline. This causes his vibrant pictures to appear to hover in the air like impossible mirages, wondrous visions both unattainable and unforgettable.
* Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 525-1755, through Aug. 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Mixed Media: As if possessed by the spirits of other art forms, Glenn Brown's works at Patrick Painter Inc. possess characteristics that ordinarily define the heart and soul of other media. For example, his sculptures behave like paintings and his paintings look like photographs that often appear to have been manipulated by computers.
Rather than diminishing the strength of the young London-based artist's objects and images, this ambivalence endows them with an edgy restlessness as exquisite as it is cold-blooded, at once hyper-refined and ruthless. A vampire-like shadow falls across all of his art, the best of which makes your skin crawl.
A pair of tabletop sculptures, "We No Longer Wish to Cling to the Life of the Body" and "The Sound of Music," could not be more insistent in their assertion of weight, volume and modeling--sculptural qualities if ever there were any. But each of these richly textured pieces is made almost entirely of paint, slathered layer upon layer.
More significantly, Brown has painted his sculptures as if they were objects in traditional figurative paintings, dramatically lit by a single light source. Each abstract piece doesn't have a proper front and back so much as a colorful side bathed in bright light and a dark side shrouded in deep shadows. No matter how they are actually lit, one side remains mossy and mysterious.
Brown's paintings bear parasitic relationships to their sources, subjects and techniques. Dali's 1931 "Autumn Cannibalism" is freely cannibalized by the young artist's "Oscillate Wildly"; his "Zombies of the Stratosphere" transforms a painting by Arnold Bocklin into a prop-like cutout as tacky as it is creepy.
Based on Frank Auerbach's thickly built-up oils, Brown's portraits make Gerhard Richter's blurry images look sappy. The glossy veneer of a Cibachrome infects Brown's images, whose razor-thin skins of paint look so much like photographs of paintings that it's hard to believe your eyes. Fusing photography and painting, his work also melds Dorian Gray and his portrait, forming mutations that may not be vital but are undeniably powerful.
* Patrick Painter Inc., Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through July 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Mind Flip: Described in words, Carl Ostendarp's big paintings don't sound like much: Each about 5 1/2-by-6 1/2-foot canvas depicts two cartoon hands set against a flat, monochromatic field of robin's egg blue, black, raspberry or yellow. Yet, the longer you look at these deadpan images, the livelier they become.
Most peculiar is their power to stick in your memory while defying your ability to say just why they're so resonant.
Installed one to a wall in a small rear room at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, the four pictures function like a walk-in comic strip. To stand in the center of the space and scan their easy-to-read imagery is to feel as if you've stepped into an oversize flip book. But, instead of using your fingers to flip through pages to create the illusion of motion, you begin to turn your body in circles, following the jumpy movement implied by the paintings.
With great economy of means, the New York-based painter evokes an endless range of narrative associations, none of which exhausts or explains the visual impact of any image. No two hands are the same color. Nor are any in the same position. Olive greens, cool lavenders and fleshy tones predominate, as the paired hands grope their way across the picture plane from top, bottom, left and right.
Some works seem to be playful riffs on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted God's fingertip poised on the cusp of touching Adam's. Others recall the song about two ships passing in the night. And two of the most touching resemble a pair of hands gently pressed against a pregnant woman's belly.
In an adjoining hall, two smaller canvases depict a baby-size hand or a slender foot kicking upward. Ostendarp's abstract pictures deftly mix metaphors. Letting your fingers do the walking is only one step away from letting your eyes dance across the animated surfaces of these promiscuous paintings.
* Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through July 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Chipped Paint: You don't have to be an artist to see the beauty of the wide variety of house paints available in any home-improvement center's display of color chips. If you are an artist, though, your paintings had better be as engaging as these ubiquitous samples. Otherwise, viewers will bypass your work in favor of the real thing.
At Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, Peter Wegner's painted panels are neither as compelling nor as useful as such ordinary color chips. Resembling enlarged versions of paint samples, the Portland-based painter's abstract pictures add only scale to the format, proportions and tints of these mass-produced spectra.
The vertical works consist of four, five or six rectangles of generally muted colors; beneath each is printed the paint's name and number. The multi-panel paintings include three or seven individual sections that have been similarly labeled and arrayed horizontally.
Some color groups, such as "Sunlight/Spotlight/Skylight/ Highlight/Nightlight/ Limelight/ Moonlit," appear to have been selected for their names. Others, like "Pale Vista/Shallow Water/Skinned Bark/Burnt Toast/Briar Patch," look as if they were chosen for the ways in which their colors complement and clash with one another.
In both cases, however, Wegner merely treats color chips as ready-made paintings. Visually wan and conceptually insipid, these overblown art-school exercises refer to a slew of historical references--Duchamp, Pop Art, Minimalist abstraction and image-and-text Conceptualism--but fail to rise above their sources to do anything more than congratulate viewers for reading them correctly.
* Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, 915 Electric Ave., Venice, (310) 452-1014, through July 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.