Lesley Vance makes the kind of small, abstract paintings that would be easy to dismiss if they weren't so solid, so alive. The large main space at David Kordansky has been divided to better suit the work's intimate dimensions — the largest is 26 inches wide, but most are closer to letter size.
At this scale, Vance uses surprisingly large brushes, confidently creating swirls and swipes of striated color that weave in and around flatter, more solid masses. The paintings continually flirt with recognition, suggesting a body part here, a wisp of smoke there, but these references flit by as if animated and the works continue to elude apprehension. They seem to be endlessly interesting.
This is due in part to their engagement with art history. Many of Vance's curvilinear forms recall the heft and creaminess of a Georgia O'Keeffe skull, as well as her fine understanding of its brittle edges. Cubism, with its cacophony of irresolvable visual angles is also a touchstone, as are the dreamy, liquid spaces of Surrealism.
Vance's work also oddly recalls the bodily abstractions of Amy Sillman, albeit without the struggle. If Sillman lets it all hang out in the Abstract Expressionist manner, Vance is more decorous and sly. But their very different bodies of work both occupy the same space between representation and abstraction, continually breaking down the scaffolding of what we think we see.
David Kordansky Gallery, 3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., Unit A, (310) 558-3030, through Jan. 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.davidkordanskygallery.com