Review: Paintings that read as anything but: The intriguing ‘Test Patterns’ of Fritz Chesnut


“Test Patterns,” the title of Fritz Chesnut’s intriguing show at the L.A. gallery there-there, applies even better as an imperative than as a noun — a command that jump-starts a process rather than a description of what is produced.

The L.A.-based artist puts patterns to the test, subjecting them to stresses of motion and change, pushing them to their breaking point. His paintings record outcomes. They are, in a sense, test results.

This might sound clinical, but there is nothing dry or prescribed about either Chesnut’s methods or his work. He pours paint onto canvas, tilting the surface to guide the mix and flow. He pushes paint through stencils and screens; he sprays it atop other paint. He catalyzes the forces of gravity and chemistry. The paintings spur curiosity about their making and offer rich sensory encounters. Textures run the gamut: sticky, chalky, crusty, slick.


The paintings read as many things, but not immediately as pigment on canvas. One looks much like a topographical map. Another, like a computer printout gone awry. And others, like an aerial photograph of a furrowed field or the imprint of a fraying textile.

Stripes, grids and weaves all distend and disintegrate across the surface, and their dissolution is what endows the technical play with metaphorical possibility. The paintings evoke continuity between the micro- and the macrocosmic, and in their conflation of generation and decay, order and the vagaries of chance, they suggest broad laws of being that govern countless forms of life on every scale.

The gorgeous degradation in Chesnut’s work is purely formal, a kind of op art skewed and spent, but it also brings to mind a number of artists who extract beauty from toxicity, from Joe Goode in his “Ozone” series of the early ‘90s to aerial photographers of the damaged landscape, such as David Maisel, Michael Light and Edward Burtynsky.


Chesnut’s work also is geographical at heart, an examination of place — the canvas — and its possibilities.

Fritz Chesnut

Where: there-there, 4859 Fountain Ave., L.A.

When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 31

Info: (323) 741-8097,

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