Patterns emerge through meditation

Times Staff Writer

"Shift," the centerpiece of a show by Timothy Nolan, is an improbable cross between a Minimalist installation and a Buddhist sand painting. And why not? Both forms encourage meditation on aspects of the conflict between sensual experience and mute materiality, ephemera and permanence. Together, they also collapse East and West, ancient and contemporary.

At the Newspace Gallery, Nolan has laid out "Shift" in the main room. At first, it looks like stray linoleum. Using silvery gray powdered graphite and a mixture of baking soda and baking powder, he dusted the floor with a tight, alternating pattern of small gray and white diamond shapes. They create one large diamond, whose placement was determined by the architecture and spatial volume of the room.

Over the delicate powdery surface of the pattern, which could be blown away by a strong gust of wind or the ministrations of a well-placed broom, Nolan sprinkled flakes of glitter. They provide essential sparkle for the diamonds. The white and gray shapes create an illusion of cubes, like an optical conundrum by M.C. Escher.

As you move around the floor design, though, the illusion shifts. Three dimensions collapse into two, then pop back up. White zigzags are crossed by gray stripes. Stacked cubes flatten into strips folded in accordion pleats. The pleats suddenly switch directions. The fragility of this temporary work concentrates time. The fact that it won't last throws the experience of "now" into high relief. When that occurs, the "now" looms as a pattern of illusion -- one that's as seductive as the sparkly work.

The show also includes four paintings on translucent sheets of white acrylic and one diptych on two tall sheets of white Mylar. Using white and silver oil paint, Nolan makes dense thickets of little rectilinear shapes -- polygons, small squares and so on.

Usually, no clear pattern is discernible. An overall sense of harmony and balance does suggest that your mind might be struggling to impose a larger order. A lacy web of radiating straight lines in the diptych even manages to create a pattern of interlocking circles -- although a curved line is nowhere to be found.

Newspace Gallery, 5241 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (323) 469-9353, through April 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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The many colors of white, explored

White is the color made from all colors in the spectrum, and as a symbol its global uses range from purity to death. For art, its most famous champion was Malevich, who said white on white expressed a peculiarly modern "feeling of fading away," of invisible forces like "wireless telegraphy" and "magnetic attraction." As the big Minimalism survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art shows, it has been steadily popular since the 1960s; Robert Ryman has built a career around applications of white pigment to flat surfaces affixed to the wall -- no two alike.

"White on White," a lovely group show of 21 paintings and sculptures by 22 artists at the Patricia Faure Gallery, likewise encompasses a wide range of variations on the theme. John M. Miller's classic "Portal II" is a tall rectangle of raw canvas with his trademark network of visually interlocking white bars, which here -- hung almost at floor level -- has the feeling of a magic doorway. Jason Eoff's "Bling Bling" goes in a whole different direction, sprinkling 30 star-bursts of rainbow-edged white across a field of cloudy white resin, in a Pop celebration of enlightenment.

Michael Roberts' beautiful untitled work mixes marble dust in acrylic paint -- pounds of it -- and lays the goop on several inches thick; light and shadow are physical, not an illusion, and the object resides somewhere between a painting and a wall relief. Andy Moses' "Illuminosity" brushes wide swaths of pearlescent white on a gently bowed plane, resulting in a fog of shifting light like a gray dawn at the seashore.

Most of the works are recent. Two that aren't are among the most impressive.

Maxwell Hendler's "Binder" (1989) is a 12-foot-wide strip of ordinary pegboard, fastidiously painted with white enamel. It provides a visual definition of a painting: literally, a hanging surface for paint.

Richard Allen Morris' wry and resonant "Snow Job" (1977) could be an emblem for the show. A 3-foot-square panel is brushed almost edge to edge with white paint, with white canvas showing through. Across the surface, the title words have been squeezed directly from the tube in a blunt script of more white paint. "Snow Job" makes fun of the popular claim about empty trickery in contemporary art while asserting a truth: The power of all art comes from its status as a white lie.

The show also includes fine examples by Tony DeLap, Jacob Hashimoto, Salomon Huerta and several others.

Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through April 10. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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There's character in his use of paint

For his American solo debut, the young Berlin-based painter Andre Butzer is showing 13 paintings, 10 works on paper and one painted object -- a skinny tin pail streaked with paint. The bucket holds a U.S. dollar bill folded up and dropped at the bottom, while the word "Friedenhof" (loosely, "peace place") is scrawled on its surface.

The object stands on a pedestal in the center of Patrick Painter Inc. like a coy pivot around which Butzer's thickly slathered paintings turn. They feature a cartoon-style cast of crudely drawn characters, including a Heidi-like blond girl, a black-eyed old man with a rubbery face and a cane, and a black cat whose scruffiness makes him look electrified -- Felix with his tail caught in a power socket.

Most frequent is a big, flat circle with enormous eyes -- a cross between Betty Boop and an animated M&M.;

The characters don't do much but stand there and gesticulate. What performs is Butzer's paint. It's troweled, scraped, thinned, pasted, brushed, knifed, ground up -- often with evident speed, whiplash changes in direction and midstream alterations.

The compositions are dense yet wonderfully manic, gelatinous but also somehow fizzy. The crack of doom thunders through this work -- death matched by a horror at the grueling necessity of living. Black is the most common color, followed by deep indigo and fiery crimson.

The most powerful picture is "Alpha to Omega," in which one of those candy-coated M&M; heads glances warily in the direction of a blazing inferno of red paint over to one side. The conflagration of color seems to be separating a black hole from a smiley face. Which of those is the beginning (alpha) and which the end (omega) is impossible to say.

Butzer draws on 20th century precedents ranging from Chaim Soutine and Asger Jorn to Georg Baselitz and Paul McCarthy. It's disconcerting to encounter new paintings by a 31-year-old artist that might easily be dismissed as a rehash of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. But, strangely, that discomfiture is exactly what makes these works worth seeing.

Patrick Painter Inc., Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through March 27. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Fragmented yet comprehensive

For painters like Sigmar Polke and David Salle, stylistic fragmentation has functioned as a critical rationale -- a way to break any "unified field theory" of art. For New York artist Les Rogers, stylistic fragmentation is itself a style.

In five self-assured recent paintings at the Happy Lion Gallery, Rogers reveals great manual dexterity with the brush. A thick, wide, sinuous slather of purple, cream and gray oil paint might magically transform itself into a striped banner unfurling in an unseen breeze. A young woman's bare midriff disappears into a lavish layer of agitated color. A visual journey across a big horizontal canvas covered with a catalog of painterly marks becomes a walk down a country lane aglow in autumnal colors.

Facility with well-traveled paths between frank figurative representation and allusive gestural abstraction is much in evidence. Each of Rogers' canvases is almost like a group exhibition all rolled into one -- a compendium of mostly Expressionist feints and parries from the last 50 years, starting with Willem de Kooning, all filtered through a Pop art atmosphere reminiscent of early James Rosenquist.

In one work, a swollen line evokes a breast, mostly through its proximity to a torso. Fingers emerge, as if peeling back shapes within the painting. A speedy ribbon of color twists through white space, like the experience of rolling over in sheets.

A large picture of a rock musician in action on stage (he recalls Iggy Pop, punk's elder statesman) features an excellent smear of a mouth. Indulgent sensual experience is Rogers' principal focus, with the promiscuity of style adding a salubrious edge.

The Happy Lion Gallery, 963 Chun King Road, Chinatown, (213) 625-1360, through April 3. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

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