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Review: Kota Ezawa filters big events through a deadpan aesthetic

Review: Kota Ezawa filters big events through a deadpan aesthetic
"Burning Man" by Kota Ezawa (2013); acrylic on wood panel. (Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica)

Kota Ezawa's re-creations of photographic images in flat, solid areas of color look as though they were run through a Photoshop filter, à la Shepard Fairey. This expressionless, deadpan aesthetic, evoking fashionable illustration techniques, has become a signature for the Japanese German artist. It might feel like a formula if it weren't so effective.

Ezawa's success owes in large part to his judicious choice of subjects, which in the past have included the Kennedy assassination and the O.J. Simpson trial. The current exhibition at Christopher Grimes, which features paintings and a single animated video, includes images of a sailing ship, a South Pole expedition and a disaster scene reminiscent of post-tsunami Japan.

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Ezawa's graphic flattening renders dramatic scenes banal, but it also creates archetypes at once familiar and otherworldly. These qualities are especially striking in a decidedly non-idyllic painting of surfers bobbing on the waves and in what is perhaps the most boring image ever created of the desert bacchanal, Burning Man.

The works' refusal of specifics suggests how certain images are burned into our collective consciousness. We don't need to be told that the disaster is in Tohoku to recognize it. At the same time, Ezawa's works make those images strange. Like an afterimage or a fuzzy memory, they're an experience we're not quite sure we had.

Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through March 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cgrimes.com

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