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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Do you see stars? The sun? An eye? The unexpected discoveries in Robert Gunderman’s worlds

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Detail of Robert Gunderman’s painting “Eclipse.”
(Robert Gunderman and There-There)

After dropping out of art school, Robert Gunderman joined the military and served as a small-arms specialist on a rapid response expeditionary team before being honorably discharged in 1987.

Then he teamed up with artist Randy Sommer to found and run a couple of art galleries: Food House in Santa Monica (1992-’94) and Acme in Los Angeles (1994-2017).

On weekends, Gunderman raced sports cars he collected. On summer breaks, he’d take off on solo weeklong hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains and Mojave Desert — just to keep his survival skills sharp and enjoy some solitude.

In his spare time, he painted — sporadically as an art dealer, and nonstop for the last year.

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The fruits of those labors can be seen in “Other End,” a deeply satisfying exhibition of 13 oils on canvas at There-There in Hollywood.

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"Francis” by Robert Gunderman, 2017-18. Oil on canvas, 5 feet by 4 feet
(Robert Gunderman and There-There)

Gunderman’s paintings are slow burns. Each burrows its way into your mind’s eye so gently that you don’t know your consciousness has been infiltrated until you’ve left the exhibition and Gunderman’s compositions start popping into your head. They’re like memories of experiences you’ve never had or uninvited guests whose cockeyed antics have a friendly sense of familiarity.

Gunderman’s sun-bleached palettes are as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans. The shapes that fill their tactile surfaces recall rocks, bluffs, skies, coves and seas. If you squint, you might see an iguana, an oyster, a pepperoni pizza, a little brown bird, a feudal town or a Ferris wheel.

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“Influence” by Robert Gunderman, 2018. Oil on canvas, 7 feet by 6 feet.
(Robert Gunderman and There-There)

An even greater sense of strangeness seeps out of Gunderman’s pictures. Looking at his works feels a bit like looking through the wrong end of a telescope: The world appears to be further away — and more captivating than it does up close.

Not a whiff of naiveté can be sniffed in Gunderman’s subtly disruptive compositions. The clunkiness of their compositions — and the consummate awkwardness of the paint-handling — is bracing, eye-opening and inspiring. It brings visitors face to face with a world not yet organized into categories or defined by words.

The rough and tumble textures of stuff — and the indescribable pleasures of experiencing reality for yourself — never looked better, nor were so much fun to muck about in.

There-There, 4859 Fountain Ave., L.A. Through Aug. 11; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 741-8097, there-there.co

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“Eclipse” by Robert Gunderman, 2018. Oil on canvas, 8 feet by 7 feet.
(Robert Gunderman and There-There)

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