Review: Where dread and beauty collide: ‘Staring at the Sun’ at Big Pictures

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If the eclipse got you to think differently about our solar system, “Staring at the Sun” is right up your alley. This four-artist exhibition at Big Pictures Los Angeles casts an enlightening shadow over everyone who crosses paths with its contradiction-riddled paintings on canvas, paper and vinyl. Darkness and illumination do not battle each other so much as they fuse in a queasy stew.

Dread and beauty collide and commingle in a pair of picture books by Aaron Morse. Each begins innocently, its candy-colored palette and paint-by-number user-friendliness evoking playtime amusements.

Aaron Morse’s “The Sphinx,” 2017, artist’s book made with acrylic and watercolor on paper, 8.25 inches by 13 inches. (Aaron Morse / Big Pictures Los Angeles)

But as you turn the pages, images pile atop one another, blotting out the past and turning the present into an overdose of excitability. Two big swathes of wallpaper, also by Morse, crank up the craziness. Making the books feel like a walk in the park, his apocalyptic wallpaper amplifies anxieties of all shapes and stripes.

Discontent ferments in Aramis Gutierrez’s pair of oils on canvas. Each closely cropped image gives visitors just enough information to think that something has gone terribly wrong — either in the real world or with our capacity to comprehend it.

Aramis Gutierrez, “Donkey,” 2015, oil on canvas. (Aramis Gutierrez / Big Pictures Los Angeles)

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Time is turned inside out in Ariana Papademetropoulos’ hallucination of a painting. Her 6-by-4-foot oil on canvas presents ghostly women as if they were holograms. Each seems to be a memory that cannot be recaptured or relived.

Ariana Papademetropoulos’ “Untitled,” 2017, oil on canvas, 72 inches by 52 inches. (Ariana Papademetropoulos / Big Pictures Los Angeles)

Similarly, Mathew Zefeldt’s painting of the fleshless face of the Terminator — 16 times over — is a menacing demonstration of the fact that even though things might not turn out as planned, endings are invariably beginnings.

Mathew Zefeldt’s “They Lived Only to Face a New Nightmare,” 2017, acrylic on canvas over panel. (Mathew Zefeldt / Big Pictures Los Angeles)

Of what, no one knows. And that is the mystery that lies at the heart of this frighteningly forward-looking exhibition.

Big Pictures Los Angeles, Saturdays-Sundays through Sept. 23. (917) 239-7206,

Aaron Morse’s “Timeline Wallpaper Print (Humanity),” 2011, digital print on vinyl with acrylic and hand painting, 60 inches by 42 inches. (Aaron Morse / Big Pictures Los Angeles)

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