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Philip Argent finds odd, dark beauty in the toxic decay

Philip Argent finds odd, dark beauty in the toxic decay
Philip Argent, "Butterfly, How Long it Takes to Die," 2015, acrylic on canvas, 72-by-84 inches. (Philip Argent / Shoshana Wayne Gallery)

Philip Argent's new paintings are everything — and nothing — like his old ones.

In terms of palette, format and paint application, Argent's 15 variously sized acrylics on canvas at Shoshana Wayne Gallery share much with the works in his last solo show in Los Angeles in 2009, as well as with just about everything the Santa Barbara painter has exhibited since he graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1994.

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In those diagrammatic landscapes, subtle colors, disruptive compositions and squeaky-clean brushwork made for abstract dramas that aligned the magic of artistic creation and the birth of the universe. The possibilities represented by digital technology melded with the powers of the imagination, both of which verged on infinity and evoked sci-fi sublimity.

Argent's new paintings are darker and more Spartan. The diamond dust that once gave his canvases their sexy shimmer is nowhere to be found in "Misaligned," which is all about dashed dreams, derailed expectations and the yawning gaps between what is promised and what is delivered.

Skepticism takes a few slippery steps toward paranoia.

The colors of Argent's paintings are queasy. Just as unnatural as before, they are less trippy and more toxic, suggesting the presence of such invisible agents as mustard gas, nuclear radiation and lead poisoning.

Extreme spatial shifts disrupt their splintered compositions. In some, massive expanses of mutant pastels block out otherwise meticulously tricked-out sections, where laser-sharp lines bisect noxious puddles of muddy colors and vast expanses of burbling goo that might be the digital version of primordial soup, if such a thing existed.

Argent's monochrome fields — in matte pink, dead lavender and light-swallowing aqua — are so flat they make you feel as if large parts of his paintings have flat-lined. Whole chunks of his fastidiously detailed surfaces seem to have gone missing. In a sense, his abstract canvases are the visual equivalent of malware, their various components at war with one another.

Despite all the destruction, Argent's paintings are still beautiful — in the way that smog-choked sunsets and the billowing smoke caused by forest fires are.

That complexity, and conflict, gives "Misaligned" its punch and resonance. Disruption never looked better — or more dreadful.

Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Feb. 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.shoshanawayne.com

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