For nearly 35 years, Richard Long has been making his mark upon the earth gently, through the soulful art of taking walks in the countryside, aligning stones in a circle, making a ring of handprints on a wall or pondering the shifting direction of the wind.
He thinks of his work as a ritualization of his life. It is personal, often solitary, but intimately linked to universal, timeless mark-making practices of the species--and also to the earth itself, which generates the work and to which the work ultimately returns.
In his current show at Griffin Contemporary, the British-born Long heads in a slightly different direction than usual. He does show a large circle (13 feet in diameter) of petrified wood, and another group of petrified wood chunks in an 8-foot tapered line, by now gestures characteristic of his sensibility. But for the first time, he also presents discrete, modest-sized works that hang on the wall like paintings. They are portable and permanent, a deviation from his typical practice of enacting temporary installations on site.
The untitled works, all dating from this young year, are variably sized, smooth wood panels (oak, maple, pine and ebony), marked by rows, ellipses or random patterns of Long's fingerprints in River Avon mud or china clay. Quietly elegant, they have the immediacy of drawings and the mass of slight sculptures.
They work on the imagination in much the same way as Long's more familiar gestures--by appearing simple and obvious at first, their significance mounting as the essential power of the mark of the hand sinks in. These primal autographs amount to a basic yet profound affirmation of being.
The most stirring are the slightest, the narrow slats of wood with a single row of prints, repeated like a drumbeat, a heartbeat or the regular, repeated rhythm of footsteps. One tall piece, nearly 8 feet high and only a few inches wide, has a totemic presence, its single stack of prints like a tower of stones.
On the wall opposite the panels, Long has made a spiral of 2,000 fingerprints in mud. It's a soft echo of the petrified wood circle on the floor directly below--a tribute perhaps to our new year, and like all of the artist's work a tribute to the continuity of life, spirit and Earth.
* Griffin Contemporary, 915 Electric Ave., Venice, (310) 452-1014, through March 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Promising New World: Maritta Tapanainen titled two of her spunky new collages at Couturier Gallery "Garden" and "Laboratory," but the names could easily hold for the entire group. A sense of growth and experimental, dynamic change prevail throughout.
The Finnish-born Tapanainen, who was raised in Canada and lived in Central America, the Mojave Desert, Europe and now Southern California, cites her disparate residences and wide-ranging travels as significant influences on her collage aesthetic. Extracting, adapting and recontextualizing are processes fundamental to both her life and work.
In each of the collages, most of which are roughly the size of a standard sheet of paper, Tapanainen jumbles together irregular patches of blank, yellowed paper with snippets of black and white photographic reproductions, diagrams and illustrations, taken primarily from scientific texts. Both the aged-looking paper and the arcane imagery are not just recycled but resuscitated, endowed with new vitality in a two-dimensional cosmos of Tapanainen's own creation.
Plants with spiny skins and leaves with explicit vein structures mingle with pressure gauges, hoops, coils and bridges. Lungs and nautilus shells orbit around one another. Targets hover near human feet, birds and buttons.
Tapanainen is more than resourceful with her materials, she is playful and witty in their combination. She sets organic elements and mechanical devices to conspiring. She liberates familiar images from their conventional meanings and assumes unfettered permission to come up with new ones. Everything doubles as something else in this free-associative wonderland.
Such verve and visual charisma bring to mind Dada collages and photomontages from the years just following World War I--especially the works of Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann. Nostalgia spreads its patina over this animated, floating world-in-process, but a sense of promise and new growth is even stronger.
* Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 933-5557, through Feb. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Light and the City: Simon Callery's reputation precedes him. He's the young (born in 1960) British painter whose first solo show in a London gallery was snatched up in its entirety one lunch hour by the advertising magnate and controversial collector Charles Saatchi. That made Callery a sensation back home. His inclusion in the Brooklyn Museum's recent attention-grabber, "Sensation," drawn exclusively from Saatchi's collection, has started to do the trick right here.
At Kohn/Turner Gallery, in his first solo show in this country, Callery doesn't quite live up to all the fuss. His large, nearly monochromatic paintings aspire to a Luminist sort of shimmer, but muster instead only a mechanical sense of cover. They are vaguely reminiscent of Agnes Martin's Minimalist subtleties but lack their meditative soul.
Callery derived inspiration for earlier work from the fall of light on the textures of the city, as seen from his London studio. These paintings too are fundamentally experiences of light. The thin vertical stripes in the paintings are Callery's effort to affect the pace of perception--to slow it down and give the eye something to linger over.
Irregularly spaced on canvases varying from 2 to 12 feet wide, the lines serve as faint structure in an overall blizzard of white. Callery lets his darker under-painting have a presence on the surface, but there's very little play of opacity and translucence, and not enough vigor in the brushwork to truly energize the surface.
Dabs of white clinging to some of the lines in one painting conjure the image of a beaded string. Another canvas is a filmy, frigid white whose very coolness intrigues. In "Trainee," a faint warm yellow and cool green mingle on the surface the way hot and cold water pouring from separate faucets come together in the sink, yielding a temperature that's comfortably tepid.
That sort of blandness deprives these works of both loft and depth. Little within them reveals itself over time; a lunch hour would be much more than enough.
* Kohn/Turner Gallery, 454 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 854-5400, through Feb. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Bracing Images: Hilary Brace's stunning charcoal drawings at Craig Krull Gallery could each fit comfortably in the palm of the hand, they are that intimate in scale. Yet they feel cosmic in scope.
Back-lit clouds hang heavily, majestically; water rises and curls with elaborate poise or cascades, fine as a gossamer mist, over the surface of rocks. However small the drawings, their billowing clouds and roiling seas exude a sense of monumental power. It's as if in the condensation of scale, the elements themselves and the natural forces of creation and destruction that drive them became concentrated--more intense and volatile.
Water, air and earth court each other with a violent passion in these drawings. They meld into one another, blurring the boundaries between their individual identities. Clouds appear as palpable as rock, water sometimes seems weightless as air. To Brace, they coexist on the same continuum. All are a matter of atmosphere, with greater or lesser degrees of density.
Though they match the scale of the hand, the drawings show no traces of the hand itself, no hatch marks or lines. Brace draws on translucent Mylar and the effect is wondrous, akin to seeing a spectacular view through the wrong end of a telescope--miniaturized and distanced but still acutely real.
These are images of extremity--of extreme conditions and extreme beauty. The forces at play are daunting, even dangerous. But the forms they take are extremely beautiful, and Brace's images have the character of prayers to that painful, precious beauty.
* Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., (310) 828-6410, through Feb. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.