Where Home Decoration Meets Fine Art


It used to be an insult to say that an artist made “couch paintings,” pictures whose palettes matched the furniture and thus were little more than decorative embellishments of a room’s well-designed “look.” Today, however, the lines between fine art and decoration are not so clearly drawn. Just because something looks good over the sofa doesn’t mean that it lacks content or impact.

At Kiyo Higashi Gallery, Guy Williams’ new inkjet prints on suede fabric play off this shift in outlook. Explicitly linking home decor and high art, each of the 67-year-old artist’s computer-generated works consists of two components: a small abstract image set in the center of a 12-inch-square field of impure color.

Many of Williams’ intimately scaled images resemble details of paintings by Kandinsky, Gauguin, Seurat and Matisse. What saves the Santa Barbara-based artist’s mini-abstractions from getting bogged down in such heavyweight historical references is the light-handed touch with which they appear to have been made. All have the presence of casually--yet masterfully--dabbed watercolors.


Most look like landscapes whose fluidity has been accentuated by the stylish tints in which they are rendered. Others recall photographic close-ups of food stalls at bountiful street markets, whose jam-packed displays overflow in rainbows of saturated color. Still others seem to depict fireworks displays, blurred as if seen through tears of joy.

The way the suede fabric absorbs the tiny streams of ink gives Williams’ works a softness and depth rarely seen in works this size, much less in mechanically reproduced ones. Their velvety softness is intensified by the tertiary colors that frame them. Trendy buckskin, deep forest green, shimmering silver blue, tasteful burgundy and rusty orange form a palette that would be at home in an upscale fabric store.

As a group, Williams’ printed panels suggest that choosing the upholstery for a sofa from a small swatch of fabric is not all that different from selecting a picture at an exhibition and then hanging it in your home. In both cases, big changes take place: The way something actually looks is never just what you expected. Living with things--especially abstract pictures--is a lot different than merely thinking about them.

* Kiyo Higashi Gallery, 8332 Melrose Ave., (323) 655-2482, through Saturday.

Go Figure: Despite precise draftsmanship, clarity of line and subtlety of shading, Peggy Preheim’s page-size drawings of infants and children--accompanied by a youthful aristocrat and an aged matriarch--hide far more than they reveal. Nothing if not enigmatic, the New York-based artist’s fastidiously executed images at Works on Paper, Inc. fascinate precisely because they prevent viewers from reading them as any kind of narrative--coherent, far-fetched or otherwise.

The clothing and poses of the lifelike people in Preheim’s exquisite pictures immediately call to mind Victorian portraiture. The titles, however, refer to Greek gods and goddesses (Aphrodite, Perseus and Harmonia), traditional Christian virtue (Grace) and contemporary characters from TV and advertising (“Star Trek’s” Spock and the recently retired Marlboro Man).

As a scene-by-scene storyboard, Preheim’s suite of 10 images compounds its mysteriousness by outlining a Minimalist’s version of Little Red Riding Hood. Surrounding three of her tiny figures are crisp silhouettes of human pelvic structures, rendered in such detail that they would not be out of place in a medical textbook. Also, all but four of her haunting drawings are adorned with geometric configurations, including circles, triangles, a Star of David and scalloped arches.

Packing loads of emotional ambiguity into a few square inches, Preheim’s pictures are at once charming and unsettling. Never coming to any conclusions, they promise to infuriate viewers who like their art cut-and-dried.

* Works on Paper, Inc., 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 964-9675, through Nov. 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays.