Ceramics has an ancient history of fusing painted surfaces with sculptural forms. Perhaps that's one reason why the ceramic medium continues to be productively employed by so many artists today, when all things hybrid are highly valued and base materials are attractive the further they exist from the digital ether of daily life.
At L.A. Louver, Matt Wedel's second solo show of nearly two dozen ceramics ranges from modest wall reliefs to elaborate and monumental sculptures, the smallest just 17 inches high and the largest reaching nearly 7 feet. Titled "Peaceable Fruit," it finds inspiration in Edward Hicks' famous early-19th century paintings of "the wolf dwelling with the lamb" in nature's pacific harmony, as biblical Isaiah 11:6-8 has it.
Some sculptures include human figures, usually ungainly and somehow forlorn, but the most sumptuous and extravagant works tend to feature plants. They evoke thickened, fleshy succulents, writhing and entangled like Medusa's twisting coif. Fat, tubular stems snake around one another and erupt into artichoke- or echeveria-like blossoms.
In one work, spectacular clusters of abstract bananas at the tips of hefty, curling stalks recall toy-like lions' tails.
Glazes are often brash and runny, chartreuse entwined with grape or puce with orange and off-white. Matte mixes with shiny, the play of light both absorbent and reflective to further visually animate the poured colors.
These giant floral clusters sometimes seem to swallow up fragments of human forms within them. They're like Capodimonte porcelains on steroids, topped with a dash of LSD.
They also weigh a ton. (This is the first time I've seen a gallery checklist note weight along with dimensions.) Of the earth as well as about it, the sculptures were each fired in a single piece in kilns large enough to accommodate their sometimes monumental size. The fruits might be peaceable, but an unavoidable hint of fiery apocalypse lurks within.
L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Dec. 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.lalouver.com
Doug Ohlson uses flat planes to create dense works
A tight selection of eight abstract paintings by New York artist Doug Ohlson (1936-2010) pivots on a kind of art that isn't much seen today. Flat planes of color establish an architecture of abstraction, giving otherwise immaterial elements substantial density.
It's not nearly as easy as it looks. In Ohlson's case, it arrived from fully absorbing color precedents like Matisse, Rothko and Barnett Newman, plus the structural finesse of Franz Kline.
At Louis Stern Fine Arts, the oldest and smallest painting — untitled from 1976 — sets out a number of parameters. A mustard-colored vertical canvas just taller than 3 feet and less than 2 feet wide is ringed with a dozen color patches along the edges: pink, gray, sage, dull orange. Within this rectangular field, a second ring of color patches articulates an interior rectangle.
The crisp interior rectangle is an optical illusion, though, formed by chromatic juxtapositions and flat brushwork carefully laid down. All the color shapes are mostly organic, but the stretched canvas and the optical illusion are geometric. Ohlson squares the natural with the cultural to produce a painting of remarkable poise.
He does the same in three canvases from 1979, each focused on a big red square, and in a 1980 two-panel painting — each half itself constructed from two panels. Upping the ante step by step, the show arrives at three blaringly bright, hugely sophisticated works from 1992-'93.
"Cat Eyes," 6 feet high by more than 9 feet wide and assembled from three canvases of different sizes, is a masterwork of coordinated color, opacity, translucence, scale, shape, brushwork, composition and construction. Ohlson juggles the architecture of abstraction to open up consciousness of boundless space, all while emphasizing the painting's strictly finite material presence.
Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 276-0147, through Jan. 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.louissternfinearts.com
Large portraits dominate Genevieve Gaignard's domestic environment
Three room-like installations form the centerpiece of Genevieve Gaignard's exhibition of new work. (A lively related video is in the back.) But the well-appointed domestic environments — a living room, sitting room and bathroom — stand in provocative relationship to large portrait photographs of women that dominate each one.
At Shulamit Nazarian Gallery, Gaignard starts with big self-portrait photographs. In each she adopts the carefully organized look and detailed demeanor of a different character, in the established manner of photographer Cindy Sherman.
Then she goes another step.
The "Hair Hopper," with her enormous blond bouffant and braid, has pride of place on a bathroom wall. The room is outfitted with fluffy towels, frilly accessories and enough cans of professional-grade Aqua Net to keep the tall coif aloft.
The room of the "Cat Lady" is a veritable cornucopia of kitty knickknacks, underscored by a pink pseudo-Persian rug and an essential litter box nearby. The room for the "Supreme" is built around an old 78-rpm record player and Black Power memorabilia.
Intriguingly, the set-designed rooms assume secondary status to the photographs, which immediately draw your eye. The rooms are actual spaces filled with real objects, but they seem subordinate to — and born of — the fictive roles enacted in the images.
In Gaignard's work, the world and its lived experiences are reflections of photographic fabrications. Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, as Oscar Wilde put it more than a century ago. A bit of a hair hopper himself, he would have felt right at home in these rooms — although surely he would have also complained about the cat lady's wallpaper choice.