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The good type of ‘Rogue’

Special to The Times

Call it the latest wave or most recent crop -- either way, the influx of emerging artists in Los Angeles has become wonderfully daunting. The community of image-makers keeps increasing in numbers and energy. So do both reasons and opportunities to showcase it.

In 2001, L.A. Louver launched its “Rogue Wave” series to focus on emerging local artists. Eleven appeared in the first iteration, and 19 crammed the second, in 2005. “Rogue Wave ’07" presents an even dozen, and though it is neither as random nor as formidable as its namesake (a huge, unpredictable ocean swell that sometimes travels at an angle to prevailing seas), the show abounds in freshness and vigor. Its contents are insistently visual, materially inventive and thoughtfully subversive -- rogue in the best sense, playfully mischievous.

The show starts at the street, with Joshua Callaghan’s “Futility Poles” clinging to the gallery’s exterior as if strewn by hurricane or flood, angles askew, wires dangling. Next to the gallery’s entrance, Amir Fallah has installed a ramshackle shelter painted in camouflage pattern on the outside and radioactive orange within. A small cactus garden grows there, like an improvised seed bank assembled to withstand a cataclysm.

Disaster and its aftermath thread through this show the way they have dominated the headlines in recent years, infusing our speech with time-release buzzwords that seep pain and questions: 9/11, Iraq, Katrina. Joseph Biel’s monumental watercolor, colored pencil and graphite drawing “Compound” reads as a stupendous topical metaphor for the trouble we’re in. Heavily charged odds and ends referencing the military, organized religion, torture, ritual and play litter the bleak landscape. A truck unloads a cargo of skulls onto a sandy hillock; another skull fills in as a tetherball attached to a pole planted deep in a pile of bricks. There’s a set of Torah scrolls half-buried in the dirt, a bomb in a baby carriage, a toppled Christmas tree. Smack in the center stands an abandoned, dilapidated house, at once artist’s lair, prisoner’s cell and survivalist’s refuge. In the distance, off to the left, the presumed occupant shuffles away, heading far from the house as well as the cityscape on the opposite end of the horizon.

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Like Biel, several others in the show marry consummate craft with an acute political and humanistic consciousness. Ben Jackel is another standout. His three stoneware sculptures are elegant and mournful. One pairs an adult elephant with its fallen young. Another looks like a warship mounted vertically on a wall but sinking into it in a strange, slow fade.

Eduardo Sarabia’s stealthy installation of ceramic vases resting on cardboard boxes looks like a display in a warehouse showroom, only the products are not quite what they appear. The boxes announce their contents as cleaning supplies and food products but serve as pedestals for decorative pottery whose Delft-like blue-and-white patterning is studded with images of guns, liquor and women in soft porn poses.

Timothy Tompkins’ paintings draw from familiar, politically oriented images in the news and are meticulously laid down in enamel on aluminum, but they feel remote, chilly. In this context, brimming with social and environmental awareness, Portia Hein’s landscape paintings, dark, angular and taut as Schiele nudes, take on an extra layer of angst, and Tom LaDuke’s foggy canvases read as especially elusive.

The overall mood of the show is not gloomy but reflective, serious but often tinged with humor. It’s hard not to laugh, in both amusement and distress, at Osman Khan’s installation “Networth,” which allows visitors to swipe a credit card and have their names join others projected on a wall in descending order of their status according to Google search prompts. On the day I visited, Paris Hilton appeared at the pinnacle, edging out Jesus.

Euan Macdonald also has some smart fun in his short video stringing together the opening bars and titles of Gershwin-era standards into a loose narrative of love and loss. The video and related drawings are steeped in nostalgic, plaintive beauty yet leavened by the whimsy of free association.

The show has been deftly installed, with thoughtful attention given to resonance among neighboring works. Even so, a few pieces don’t play so well with others. Dan Ho’s oversized fishbowl borrows heavily from Robert Therrien but still stands apart as relatively thin. Sandeep Mukherjee’s ink paintings of radiating circles are luminous but slightly out of place as the show’s lone pure abstractions. Half of the artists came through UCLA’s graduate programs, but the show doesn’t suffer from any uniformity as a result. This latest, glimmering wave lands with resounding force.

L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Aug. 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

www.lalouver.com

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He can’t escape the bureaucracy

Cross Franz Kafka with Buster Keaton and you might end up with something like David Bailin’s terrific charcoal drawings at Koplin del Rio, each featuring an everyman negotiating the space between terror and the absurd. Our protagonist occupies a bureaucratic world of an earlier generation: offices, labs and hallways filled with heavy wood furniture. He is ever looking for a way out.

In “Opening,” he stands on a platform gazing out a small window high on one wall, about where the obligatory window in a jail cell might be. This room is a prison of a different order, a narrow, claustrophobic space packed floor to ceiling with shelved books and papers. The man, in late middle age, dressed in work shirt and slacks, peers out from the clutter as if searching for a reprieve from his own circumscribed life.

In other scenes, the man raises his fists against invisible demons, prepares to exit through a dislodged ceiling tile or ponders his untied shoe, oblivious to the massive tree branch that has pushed its way through an office window and broken through the roof. “Apparition” has him standing atop a desk, considering an even taller pile of paperwork teetering on the table’s edge.

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Visual order and psychic chaos maintain a tenuous balance in these engrossing images, as do their opposites, disarray and calm. Bailin, based in Little Rock, Ark., creates utterly convincing settings for predicaments of an allegorical nature, musings on conditions of being. He injects his images with a dynamic sense of contingency, much as the animated drawings of William Kentridge do. The paper doubles as chalkboard; smearing and erasure are visible parts of the process. Toning the sheets in coffee, Bailin infuses them with a warmth under the charcoal’s velvety grays. In so doing, he also adds another subtle layer of friction -- between the caffeinated compulsion of the workplace and the expressive, primal escape of drawing.

Koplin Del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through July 14. Closed Sunday and Monday.

www.koplindelrio.com

Focus on misery, in miniature

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When the meticulous world of the miniature (think dollhouses and model train environments) met the crafty, scale-skewing medium of photography, sparks flew. It was a match made in heaven’s basement, a wonderland of fantasies and the appropriate tools to enact them.

For the last decade, Lori Nix has been fiddling in that arena among more established progenitors -- David Levinthal, Laurie Simmons, James Casebere and many more. Her show at Stephen Cohen skips around through several bodies of work, all of them intensely saturated color photographs of staged (and overtly stagy) environments. She tends to dwell on disaster, disruption and decay, not the stuff of traditional miniatures but well-trod terrain in recent art.

Utopias turned dystopian show up repeatedly: A uranium plant perches on a majestic cliff, dribbling toxic waste into the pastoral pool below; crows infest an elegant old theater, nesting in the chandelier and plucking at the strings of a violin abandoned onstage. Many of the scenes have a syrupy quality to them, thick and forced, but the newest work especially has real poignancy along with its fabricated verve.

Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., (323) 937-5525, through July 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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www.stephencohengallery.com

Capturing motion in still images

Liza Ryan calls her new series of large color photographs “Motion Pictures,” as they suggest cinematic stills. But those images feel static next to two more-fulfilling recent works that combine multiple smaller, unframed photographs. In these, motion is explicit: The eye ravenously travels through them, and the body shifts to fully take them in.

Time, sequence and narrative have been active elements in Ryan’s work for the decade or so that she’s been exhibiting. “Something Tells Me She Didn’t Look Back” and “I Sew Myself Together,” highlights of the current Griffin show, are among the most poetic of her efforts to conjure the fluid sensations of experience through stills. The first work loosely joins more than 40 photographs; the second, 21.

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The images function like words that accrete into evocative descriptions or portentous phrases.

In “I Sew Myself Together,” photographs of a bird in flight, a twisting eucalyptus, a cloven pomegranate, the wiry tangle of a nest, a woman’s mouth issuing a milky ribbon of smoke, a silvery patch of animal fur and more are pinned to the wall in a loose mosaic.

The images are diffuse, but their effect is of a concentrated meditation on conditions of motion and stillness, the earthy and the ethereal. Ryan draws into some of the photographs using graphite and charcoal in an understated way, adding twining vines or roots that resemble streaks of lightning. Her greatest strength is in using visual rhyme and resonance to craft poetry from fragments, a filmic sense of passage from still slivers of the whole.

Griffin, 2902 Nebraska Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6886, through July 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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www.griffinla.com


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