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Entertainment & Arts

In Laura Krifka’s paintings, you’re the voyeur looking in with naked attraction

Detail of “Copy Cat” by Laura Krifka, on view at Luis De Jesus.
Detail of “Copy Cat” by Laura Krifka, on view at Luis De Jesus.
(Laura Krifka / Luis De Jesus)

Laura Krifka is a superlative, if shifty, storyteller — a cross between a delectably unreliable narrator and a canny ventriloquist. Her intriguing recent oils on canvas and panel at the Los Angeles gallery Luis De Jesus are painted with brushless exactitude, their crisp and controlled surfaces belying personal and interpersonal complexities beneath. Krifka tells it super-straight, but the “it” is slant.

Consider the stealth and skill of “Pink Peep” (2019). The painted panel presents as a wood-framed window, more or less true to scale. A slender, unclothed person stands within, largely veiled by a lace curtain. Everything about the scene signals the conventionally feminine: the mauve and lavender color scheme; the soft, delicate lace; the figure’s smooth skin. All except for the tip of the person’s penis, glimpsed beneath the curtain’s scalloped hem. Gender-coded expectations are challenged by the subtle surprise, and by the fluidity it suggests. Our traditional role, too, is inverted, from viewer looking out of the painting-as-window to voyeur peering in.

Krifka, based in San Luis Obispo, infuses many of the scenes with a sexual charge, tinged with unease. Desire and its expression both feel suppressed, channeled into illicit witness. In “Blue Bowls,” a woman in a tiled room reaches up to adjust a light, while a few steps behind her back, a naked man appears to be pleasuring himself. In “Lions,” a buff young man, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist, sits reading by a window, while another man watches him from outside, one hand tucked down the front of his pants.

“Lions” by Laura Krifka, 2019. Oil on panel, 60 inches by 40 inches.
“Lions” by Laura Krifka, 2019. Oil on panel, 60 inches by 40 inches.
(Deborah Denker Photography / Luis De Jesus)

Krifka plays deftly with vision-as-attention, manipulating the magnetic forces within each painting that attract and hold our eyes, that trigger reflexive responses from the mind and body. In “Copy Cat,” she shows a young woman in bra and panties at her desk, pencil in hand. She is sketching the face of a cat, mimicking the image in a nearby book, yet her gaze is aimed off-screen, as it were, as if she were drawing from direct observation. In her own imitative maneuver (think Balthus), Krifka has positioned the seated woman with one knee lifted, planting another loaded sensory magnet in the shadowy exposure between the subject’s legs.

“Copy Cat” by Laura Krifka, 2017, on view at Luis de Jesus. Oil on canvas, 48 inches by 36 inches.
“Copy Cat” by Laura Krifka, 2017, on view at Luis De Jesus. Oil on canvas, 48 inches by 36 inches.
(Laura Krifka / Luis De Jesus)
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What happens within the confines of home is typically private, but in Krifka’s meticulously art-directed domestic interiors, all is choreographed performance. Even the walls are performative. Background planes assert themselves via vibrant vertical bands, doubled russet and pumpkin serpentine stripes and assorted other exuberant geometric patterns. The dazzle adds to the overall tenor of ripe immediacy, but also situates the scenes in the stylized past of memory — or perhaps ’70s television.

How many ways these paintings seduce, as they wryly, self-consciously parse intimate narratives and aesthetic strategies of seduction! The comic is yet one of those ways, Krifka extenuating the staged into the stagey. “The Dream” is a luscious hoot, not reproducible here. Go see it, chuckle, marvel.

Laura Krifka
Where: Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.

When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 26

Info: (310) 838-6000, www.luisdejesus.com

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