Review: For Tony Larson, building blocks of color add up to a much bigger picture

The 13 works in “Tony Larson: Load Signs” are so fun to see that you may not notice how smart they are. And that’s just fine with Larson, whose geometric abstractions on canvas, drop cloth and metal are nothing if not comfortable in their own skin.

That maturity — or grown-up groundedness — makes Larson’s solo debut at Zevitas Marcus stand out, its even-keeled composure an antidote to the spoiled-brat theatrics of social media, the tantrums of political discourse and the puerile pretentions of so much contemporary art.

The fun begins the moment you lay eyes on Larson’s paintings. Their bright colors, simple shapes, approachable dimensions and stacked-together compositions are as friendly as kindergarten building blocks. Tinker Toys and Legos come to mind, less for being trademarked brands than for the ways they fan the flames of creativity.

Tony Larson
Tony Larson, “Window to Nowhere,” 2018. Flashe and acrylic on canvas, 40 inches by 30 inches. Tony Larson / Zevitas Marcus
Tony Larson
Tony Larson, “Loading,” 2018. Flashe, acrylic, traffic marker paint on raw canvas, 36 inches by 24 inches. Tony Larson / Zevitas Marcus

As you keep looking, the fun doesn’t fade. It deepens when you discover what Larson has done with symmetry. His paintings elicit a primordial desire for the organic orderliness of left-right, mirror-image balance. At the same time, they throw a monkey wrench into our perceptual machinery, tweaking the body’s equilibrium by bringing a jolt of turbulence into the picture.

And the creativity doesn’t stop there. Subtle shadows, carefully placed, give Larson’s flat expanses of color substance and volume and gravity-defying lightness. Neither rough nor fussy, Larson’s brushstrokes strike just the right balance between dutiful dedication and get-it-done haste. It’s clear that he cares about objects, particularly the way they look in Southern California sunshine.

Tony Larson
Tony Larson, “Staff Meeting,” 2018. Flashe, acrylic, traffic marker paint on aluminum, 60 inches by 48 inches by 2 inches. Tony Larson / Zevitas Marcus

Larson deploys negative space like nobody’s business, making emptiness full and leaving large areas free of distractions. In two of his works, he has used thin metal bars, forming an aluminum “U” and a steel “T.” Each spindly painting transforms the wall it hangs on into a big-picture plane, creating an enlivening sense of vertigo.

If John McLaughlin (1898-1976) had spent less time golfing and more time skateboarding, he might very well have made paintings like Larson’s: calm, cool yet crackling with whiplash shifts in perspective and radical moves in every direction. Braininess never looked better. Nor was more pleasurable.

Zevitas Marcus, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Through April 28; closed Sundays and Mondays. (424) 298-8088,

Tony Larson
Tony Larson, “New Tab,” 2018. Flashe, acrylic, traffic marker paint on canvas, 40 inches by 30 inches. Tony Larson / Zevitas Marcus

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