Review: Ancient mythology meets the modern video game in David Jien’s ‘Exodus’


Ancient mythology and contemporary gaming culture commingle in David Jien’s colored pencil drawings and tabletop sculptures at Richard Heller Gallery. Titled “Exodus,” like the nearly 8-foot-long drawing that took Jien two years to finish and anchors his second solo show, the two-gallery exhibition is a double-barrel blast.

It confirms that the young L.A. artist is a force to be reckoned with. It also reveals that his talents as a draftsman, which are dazzling, are the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the brilliance of Jien’s virtuosity with a pencil lies a world suffused with goofy humor, head-scratching nuttiness, unexpected empathy and, strangest of all, serenity.

There’s plenty to see before you get to such old-fashioned experiences, and Jien does not begrudge any pleasure any visitor may take from his impeccably rendered pictures, many of which depict action-packed dramas that put comic book movies to shame.


Most of Jien’s works are not much bigger than illuminated manuscripts drawn by monks and holy men all over the globe, before the printing press was invented. Persian miniatures also come to mind.

The cast of characters that climbs mountains, vanquishes foes and embarks on Odysseus-style quests includes artists, aristocrats, backpackers, samurai, magicians, demons, robots, Humpty Dumpty-style eggheads, cobra-hooded acolytes, cat-headed pharaohs, wide-eyed innocents, gigantic mallards, reptilian monsters, hermit crabs and birds astride horses, which are fantastic renditions of the real thing.

The delicacy of Jien’s lines and the elegance of his compositions make his phantasmagorical pictures seem sensible — not totally believable but certainly not freakish, exotic or out of touch with reality. The way he collages bits of holographic film and patches of glitter into his images makes them all the more magical. That’s where the wisdom — and serenity — come in.

The innocence of children’s book illustrations is even more boldly embraced in Jien’s sculptures, each of which is about the size of a cookie jar. His 10 handcrafted icons — or supersized chess pieces — are 3-D mosaics whose DNA seems to shares strands with Hello Kitty, Pac-Man and B-movie versions of the monumental heads on Eastern Island.

The bright colors, pixel-style compositions and general silliness of Jien’s sculptures do not detract from their sense of composure. In fact, their cuteness adds to the uncanny calm they exude. It’s a welcome respite from the free-floating anger of adolescence, which seems to have made its way into every corner of modern life.


Richard Heller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9191, through May 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.