Ziegler debuts playfully

Times Staff Writer

In a striking debut Los Angeles show of three paintings and three sculptures, 35-year-old British artist Toby Ziegler skillfully mashes up art history and current technology with cheerful, pungent eccentricity. At once funny, ambitious and loaded with style, the work impresses by virtue of a disarming complexity.

At the Patrick Painter Gallery, a two-panel painting repeats one basic motif in each canvas, surrounding it with radically different contexts. The lower portion of both large canvases shows a lumpy shape bound by a thickly painted, shaggy red line and dotted with a pattern of neatly contoured ovals in red, orange, yellow and white.

Resolutely abstract, the colorful shape nonetheless evokes a Technicolor sunset amid billowy clouds. In a similar manner, the hand-painted patterned ovals suggest digital printing techniques without mimicking computer graphics. Bits of gold leaf in the underpaint cause light to shimmer.


The pictorial weather changes sharply from one canvas to the next. Wide, horizontal bars of dusty orange, muddy peach, pale azure and bluish gray yield a placid surrounding “sky” (with vaguely toxic overtones) on one side. On the other, a nominal storm, which might be passing or just arriving, is suggested by a jagged linear web of dark crimson set against a patterned field of black ovals interrupted by splotches of pink and blue.

Ziegler’s diptych does not describe a direct encounter with nature. But it does suggest an array of familiar historical landscape paintings -- English, Continental Baroque and 19th century American -- filtered through the Pop craftsmanship of artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Sigmar Polke. Together, the two panels suggest episodes in a narrative: A calm etched with apprehension is paired with a seductive drama. The painting is tellingly titled “The Power of Spiritual Abuse.”

The two other paintings use similar means in palettes largely restricted to black, white and gray. These virtual landscapes have an almost metallic flavor -- like biting down on aluminum foil.

Ziegler is no less gifted with sculptural materials, which tend toward the common and cut-rate. One employs pieces of glued corrugated cardboard, energetically brushed with thin white gesso, to create a bison-like form.

Flowing tufts of white horsehair transform the boxy blob into a mythical creature from a fantasy museum of decidedly unnatural history. A simple white circle painted around it on the floor effectively isolates the peculiar creature within a touch-free zone. Set apart through caution or reverence, the beast is both homemade and alien.

The most compelling sculpture is “The Liberals,” a lumpy pair of crystalline, white-gesso cardboard figures, each taller than a person. Set on wheels, they lean gently into each other. Their surfaces are pocked with rough-hewn shapes -- think bowls or blossoms -- also made from corrugated cardboard. Dotting the sculptures’ skin, they look at once decoratively nutty and medically noxious.


The source for Ziegler’s figures is Staffordshire porcelain dogs, ubiquitous in English homes, here blown up to threatening if absurd scale. Derived from Chinese lions or foo dogs, the Staffordshire works represented the beginnings of a remarkable decorative arts transformation at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Like his landscape paintings, which shift the Surrealist space of an Yves Tanguy from the human psyche’s dream world to something closer to an android’s memory chip, Ziegler’s “figure sculptures” transform De Chirico-like mannequins into manageable yet monstrous handicrafts. Ziegler is productively rummaging around in the 18th century to feel his way through today’s technological tumult, and the results are invigorating.

Patrick Painter Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through March 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


His stripes are a Wonderwall

Las Vegas artist Tim Bavington’s exhibition at the Mark Moore Gallery shows him deftly elaborating the stripe format that he’s brought back into abstract painting with such compelling force in recent years. As he moves forward, we also get to look back: The show includes an enlightening selection of studies that demonstrate how he uses musical notation as a structural basis for his art.

The centerpiece is a mammoth stripe painting 48 feet long. Painted on 18 panels, each just over 4 feet tall, it can be shown in various configurations -- stacked in two rows of nine or three rows of six, or unfurled in all its glory as it is here, spread across three walls. The palette of orange, violet, lime green and other vertical stripes, made with a spray gun and fuzzed at the edges, hovers a few inches in front of the gallery wall.

To achieve the effect, Bavington has beveled the stretcher bars, which pushes the surface of his canvases out from the wall. Free of brushwork, the sprayed color has optical depth that varies according to intensity and juxtaposition, so the lateral sweep of the rhythmic stripe pattern is at once emphasized and counterbalanced.

Titled after the Oasis song, “Columbia” is a work of gorgeous sensory overload. By contrast, “Live Forever” (based on another Oasis track) revels in sensory deprivation.

The stripes on this 8-foot-square canvas have been nearly obliterated by two rectangular blocks of black over-paint, leaving a strip of chromatic exuberance in a thin band across the middle. Now mostly hidden, the stripes bleed through the blackness like warring forces of darkness and light.

Among the studies in the side gallery is the working drawing for “Step (In) Out,” the monumental stripe painting in the exhibition “Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art From the Neon Homeland,” currently at the Laguna Art Museum. The studies show how Bavington orchestrates his pictorial compositions. Musical scores are used almost as found objects, with the colored stripe pattern following a dispassionate logic worthy of Conceptual master Sol Lewitt. The results are anything but cool and common-sensical.

Mark Moore Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through March 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.mark


Maps of the distant past

Cal Lane’s world maps are cleverly made from oil drums whose cylindrical bodies have been split open and laid flat, like a Mercator projection, and whose circular tops and bottoms record aerial diagrams of the North and South poles. With Iraq in ruins and gasoline prices hovering around $4 a gallon, the global tangle over oil is deftly implied.

The show at Samuel Freeman (which changed its name this month from the Patricia Faure Gallery) is collectively titled “Sweet Crude.” Yet even with their royal crests, monstrous gargoyles, floral borders and other elaborate details, Lane’s maps exude less a sense of geopolitical power struggle than an echo of prehistory. What’s left over from the retrieval of ancient sunlight, as petroleum has been poetically characterized, is put at the service of art.

The Canadian artist cuts the steel drums -- and, in other bodies of work, gas cans and automobile parts -- into delicate lace patterns, using high-powered industrial torches. Decorative embellishment associated with refined young ladies overtakes utilitarian objects with traditionally masculine connotations.

Perhaps that’s why the most prominent imagery shows copulating figures. In industrial-strength works with the come-hither look of trashy lingerie, Lane has etched an elegant Kama Sutra of crude.

Samuel Freeman Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through April 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www


He shouldn’t be so modest

Tim Forcum’s easel-size abstractions at d.e.n. contemporary mingle organic and geometric shapes with linear tangles, which your eyes track as if following a map. Most of the paint application is hard-edged and anonymous, especially in the shapes, but some of the lines imply the artist’s hand. The palette largely avoids saturated primary colors.

Collectively titled “Complications of Nature,” the 19 mostly oil-on-canvas works seem determined to poke around betwixt and between, locating nature as something separate from but part of human perception. Yet the work feels tentative and overly modest, skillful and safe. The show’s title painting is the most convincing and also -- perhaps significantly -- the largest. In this case, bigger is better.

d.e.n. contemporary, 6023 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 559-3023, through April 12. Closed Sundays, Mondays.