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Colorful stripes to music, like a rock ‘n’ roll EKG

Special to The Times

Seven years ago, no one who wanted to be taken seriously as an artist would think of making stripe paintings. Such pretty designs belonged on shopping bags or dusty canvases packed away in museum storage bins.

Tim Bavington changed all that. Sprayed with an airbrush, his fluorescent-hued panels were so vivid, sexy and luminous that no clear-eyed viewer could dismiss them for being frivolous or decorative.

The 37-year-old artist did for stripe painting what Playboy did for the nude pinup (and what Minimalism did for sculpture): make it more beautiful by stripping away unnecessary details. And Bavington had to work harder than Hugh Hefner. Where the publisher began with gorgeous models, the young painter started out with a style that was assumed to be dead and buried.

Today, stylish stripes are everywhere. Flashy colors are all around us. And Bavington, who was born in London and lives in Las Vegas, is at it again.

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At the Mark Moore Gallery, five new mural-scale paintings abandon the playfully exuberant palette and luscious rhythms of his earlier works for colors that aren’t afraid to wrap themselves around the dark side of life. Bavington’s compositions jolt and jar far more often than they serenade. If it was nutty for him to start making stripe paintings in 1997, it’s equally nutty, and even more ambitious, for him to transform this cheery, lighthearted style into paintings with real grit and substance, not to mention the capacity to make you shudder. That he succeeds so splendidly is a testament to the wisdom of marching to the beat of your own drum -- even if the song’s also on the radio.

Music lies behind Bavington’s new paintings, which translate guitar solos, melodies and bass and treble lines from tracks by such bands as the Darkness, Oasis and the Stone Roses into vertical bands of color that bleed into one another. “Full Fathom Five (Elephant Stone)” consists of five long horizontal canvases stacked atop one another (like a Donald Judd wall sculpture) to form a 10-foot-tall vertical field. Its supersaturated array of browns, grays, aquas and lavenders, punctuated by queasy olive greens, fleshy salmon pinks and overripe pumpkin tints, should turn your stomach. But in Bavington’s hands, these questionable tertiary colors resonate.

“Roll With It” preserves some of the giddy optimism of Bavington’s earlier, less complicated paintings, but not without exposing their sunny outlook to the toxic atmosphere of his mature works. Drawing on Karl Benjamin’s fabulously indescribable palette from the 1950s and on Monique Prieto’s recent demonstration that formalist painting is no stranger to anxiety and dread, Bavington delivers a powerfully original remix that’s accessible and sophisticated, immediate in its eye-grabbing appeal and long-lasting in its emotional affects.

Mark Moore Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through May 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Fantasy, reality: Wearing her art

Blind fate, dumb luck and stupid pranks come together with remarkable precision in Gillian Wearing’s “Album,” a suite of six self-portraits at Regen Projects. Each of the digitally printed color photographs depicts the 40-year-old British artist wearing a wax mask that was made with the assistance of the experts at Madame Tussaud’s.

The masks are lifelike copies of the faces of Wearing family members, including her uncle, mom, dad, brother, sister and teenage self. Each is based on a snapshot she selected from the family album. The new photographs are larger than life-size but far stranger than straightforward enlargements.

Even a quick glance at the impeccably printed pictures suggests that something is out of whack. The uncanny power of Wearing’s perversely circular art resides in the details, particularly around her eyes, where the mask’s eyeholes are visible and the difference between skin and wax is evident.

Once you figure out what’s going on, you start to wonder why. That’s when things get weird.

Is Wearing inspired by a Wordsworthian fantasy of getting inside someone else’s skin and seeing the world through his or her eyes? Isn’t that what viewers do when we look at her roundabout self-portraits?

Or is she making fun of Cindy Sherman, who also dresses up as other people to make poignant photos of folks whose self-images are profoundly out of sync with reality? Is it merely a coincidence that Wearing’s Uncle Bryan looks like a cross between a ventriloquist’s dummy and George W. Bush? That her dashing father could be James Bond’s stunt double? Her mother a Bonnie to an anonymous Clyde? And her sister a low-budget Farrah Fawcett from the actress’ prime?

The line between fantasy and reality blurs in Wearing’s deceptively simple pictures. Halloween pales by comparison with her redone family album, which turns narcissism upside down and inside out. Taking her surname as a literal description of what she does to make art, Wearing intimates that the madly methodical game she plays with identity runs in her blood.

Regen Projects, 633 N. Almont Drive, (310) 276-5424, through April 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Swoops, wedges of imaginative travel

For the last eight years or so, Las Vegas artist Yek has been spray-painting candy-colored rainbows and razor-sharp lines on concave panels. Now his works have gone flat.

But the fizz has not gone out of his hyper-refined abstractions. At Western Project, four new acrylics on canvas stretched taut over elongated panels hug the wall in the way fine radials grip a mountain road’s curves. Yek’s two- and three-tone works compress the spacey thrills of his earlier paintings, which invariably followed a square format, into swoops and wedges of aerodynamic color with more G-force than most art delivers.

With its title, “Cabriolet,” the series’ reference to the pleasures of driving is explicit. But the type of travel Yek’s images evoke is purely imaginative. It takes place in the space between your solar plexus and brain, moves at warp speed and has at least as much to do with sci-fi movies, big-screen theaters and digitally transmitted graphics as it does with racy automobiles.

The palette is straight out of the painter’s past, only more saturated. “Arrangement #4 (Cave, Impression)” pairs an arc that slides from fiery orange to screaming yellow with an oddly cropped lozenge of azure. It evokes Mediterranean languor.

The shapes of Yek’s works are entirely new. The left and right edges are perfectly vertical, just like those of traditional paintings. And one corner of each work’s bottom edge forms a right angle. But this edge also curves upward, as if it’s tracing the Southern Hemisphere’s horizon as seen from the north.

The top edges of the 8-foot-long paintings, meanwhile, curve gracefully downward but never at the same rate as the bottoms. And the tops of the fatter 6-footers include a kink where the curve stops and the line straightens, ending in a second right angle diagonally across from the first. All of Yek’s paintings resemble the mutant offspring of elegant old surfboards and stubby boogie boards.

Their shapes pay homage to Minimalist compositions by Ellsworth Kelly and Jo Baer. Their textures and tints recall the backdrops of Edward Ruscha’s word paintings. Whatever type of transport you favor, Yek’s pictures of wide open spaces take you on rides with no end in sight.

Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through May 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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German artist shakes off the past

In the United States, Pop and Expressionism have pretty much stuck to opposite ends of the artistic spectrum.

Since World War II, Abstract Expressionism has cast a long shadow over all forms of hot spontaneity and expressive gesturalism, which Warhol and company countered with their cool embrace of soup cans and comic strips. The paths rarely crossed.

In Germany, things went differently. Pop and Expressionism intermingled promiscuously. Both styles gave potent form to an artistic generation’s desire to throw off the dead wood of history and make works that were exciting, vivacious and new.

At the Tasende Gallery, a dozen bronze sculptures and oil paintings that German artist Markus Lupertz has made since 1998 reveal his artistic roots in the hybrid soil of Pop Expressionism. More important, they suggest that America’s tendency to see the styles as opposites may need rethinking.

A 12-foot-tall sculpture of the Greek goddess Daphne is the centerpiece of the surprisingly playful exhibition. Her face is painted bright red, green and white. Her eyes are not quite those of a doe caught in the headlights, but they make her look stunned. And who wouldn’t be if about to be turned into a tree?

The stumpy legs and lumpy torso of Lupertz’s goofy statue stand in dramatic contrast to the slender tree behind her, which appears to be made of Play-doh. Bronze never looked so lowbrow, so unpretentious and accessible. You don’t need to know that Daphne’s posture mimics that of Michelangelo’s David, or that her severed arms pay cheeky homage to the Venus de Milo. But you also don’t have to be a specialist to get the Art 101 references.

Lupertz’s oils on canvas, some with tempera mixed in, similarly toss together styles, approaches and associations. Blending abstraction and representation, painting and printmaking, each seems to be three or four paintings that have collided in some kind of time warp.

If history teaches anything, it’s that in the future, the past will look different. In Lupertz’s hands, the future is already here, even if we’re too close to see it clearly.

Tasende Gallery, 8808 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 276-8686, through April 14. Closed Sunday and Monday.


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