The 11 big figurative paintings in Armin Boehm's first solo show in the United States fall into two groups: still lifes of flowers and urbanites engaged in leisure activities. Imagine people hanging out in lounges, working out at the gym, doing yoga in the park.
The trappings of stylish lifestyles are abundant: pricey condos, design furniture, penthouse views of Berlin's skyline and restaurants that require reservations — days, if not weeks, in advance. Bold colors, jaunty compositions and cut-to-the-chase paint-handling add graphic punch and considerable verve. Boehm's paintings are fun to peruse.
But anxiety enters the picture quickly. It suffuses every square inch of Boehm's compositions, which are charged with an undercurrent of dread.
Sometimes it emerges subtly, particularly when malformed flowers with spiky silhouettes, off-key color combinations and zigzag patterning appear to have more in common with explosions in comic strips than anything in nature. In Los Angeles, they look like the improbable offspring of Max Jansons' stylized bouquets and Helen Rae's fractured compositions.
Anxiousness percolates even more powerfully in Boehm's pictures of people. When two appear in "Mesmerized," they seem to inhabit different realities. When more show up in "Noctambule," "Tricky," "Hot Space" and "Flower Society," all seem lost in their own heads, even those desperately trying to hook up with others.
The piecemeal, patchwork atmosphere of Boehm's scenes of well-heeled bohemian life also takes shape in the materials he uses to build his compositions. Most of the time he paints with a brush, applying paint in flat expanses and angled planes that recall German Expressionist paintings from the 1920s and Neo-Expressionist work from the 1970s.
But Boehm also glues crudely cut swatches of dyed fabric to his surfaces. Rather than painting over areas with which he is dissatisfied, Boehm slaps on a "patch" to repair the mistake. This allows him to avoid piling up paint. It also prevents his colors from getting muddy. These glued swatches of dyed fabric keep the paintings fresh and immediate, even though close looks reveal that they have been through the wringer.
Striking a precarious balance between leisure and dread, relaxation and anxiety, Boehm captures the tenor of our times.
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 837-2117, through April 16. www.vielmetter.com