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Review: Michael Tedja’s charmer of a show gets a second life at Chimento Contemporary

Michael Tedja shows 210 drawings in his debut L.A. gallery solo.
(Chimento Contemporary)

Unfettered spontaneity is corralled by concise structural order in Michael Tedja’s rambunctious mixed-media drawings.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Highly regulated organization provides the platform for free-spirited impulsiveness to erupt.

Either way, the work’s high-flying tension between order and chaos is invigorating.

Born in 1971 in the Netherlands, where he is based in Amsterdam, Tedja is having his second U.S. solo exhibition and his Los Angeles debut. The show’s run was abbreviated when Chimento Contemporary shuttered in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 210 of Tedja’s paintings on paper push-pinned to gallery walls.

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Happily, they are still there. And they will be until the end of the month as the gallery slowly reopens with health precautions in place.

With paint, chalk and crayon, Michael Tedja draws on uniform sheets of commercial card stock.
(Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times)

Textured paint, crayon and chalk are deployed on uniform sheets of paper lined in a grid formation that wallpapers the room. Imagery ranges from figurative to abstract, although most are better described with the upfront modifier “semi.” Tedja’s semi-abstract and semi-figurative approach seems determined not to let his pictures get pinned down.

A fuzzy blue circle surrounded by radiating lines could be a kid’s conception of a flower, the schoolroom diagram of an explosion or just a fuzzy blue circle surrounded by radiating lines. A triangle becomes a UFO lifting off on a vertical blast of thick red marks, while a network of serpentine lines evokes a pastiche of elegant abstract paintings by Brice Marden transforming into a furious temper tantrum.

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Nearby, another tangle coalesces into a graphic describing random charges of electrical brainwaves, or perhaps a Jean-Michel Basquiat skull. Masonic mysteries emerge from an eyeball floating above an ancient pyramid, enigmatic yellow handwriting obscured by clouds of sprayed blue paint, while cartoonish thought bubbles convert two brushy, vertical white shapes into a pair of ghosts deep in spectral conversation.

Tedja's drawings are semi-abstract and semi-figurative.
(Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times)

Tedja is a kind of neo-CoBrA artist. His flamboyant storms of imagery and vividly colored marks recall the group of Danish (Copenhagen), Belgian (Brussels) and Dutch (Amsterdam) artists who briefly banded together after World War II. Their aim was to banish conventional thinking, which encompassed everything from bourgeois rituals of daily life to intellectual theorizing around avant-garde art.

Expressionist spontaneity was a primary tool. Tedja applies it to often recognizable, un-Expressionist visual signs and cues.

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Los Angeles County says they can reopen as soon as Friday, but museums tell The Times they need weeks, maybe months, before they’ll be ready.

McDonald’s golden arches, exuberant dancers in Russian folk tales, the refined spiritual abstractions of painter Alexei Jawlensky, gymnasts’ flips, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial — convention in Tejda’s art is the equivalent of channel flipping on television or Internet surfing in the still-young digital world. His drawing surface is commercial card stock — the works are titled “The Color Guide Series” — and the color bars printed along the paper’s edge are left exposed. Tedja identifies a mass-produced contemporary standard against which he presses the decidedly unique, even aberrational, mark-making.

Each sheet is the same 25 inches high by 18 inches wide. The physical uniformity of the paper establishes a spatial equivalence that matches the conceptual framework, where every image is on an equal footing.

The environment erupts into a boisterous visual cacophony, playfully mad.

Two hundred and ten different stories are being told at once, each without end. Why a viewer might gravitate to this Tedja drawing over that Tedja drawing becomes an unexpectedly delightful puzzle.

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Michael Tedja

Where: Chimento Contemporary, 4480 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.
When: Noon-4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; also by appointment. Ends June 30.
Info: (323) 998-0464, chimentocontemporary.net

Michael Tedja has wallpapered the gallery
(Chimento Contemporary)


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