The first piece I saw by Charles Christopher Hill was a tiny, thickly painted striped canvas that, despite being less than 6 inches square, had an inexplicable presence.
I assumed it dated from the reign of Minimalism in the 1970s, but it was actually created in 2009. Hill’s latest exhibition at Leslie Sacks Contemporary provides a spare but intriguing back story for this apparent anachronism.
The earliest works in the show, from the late 1970s, are among the best: large, torn paper collages, shot through with stitching. With their vibrant hues and rough, distressed surfaces, they are at once sublime and down-home, flickering somewhere between Color Field painting and well-loved, homemade quilts.
In the 1980s, Hill attempted to translate this look to the more traditional medium of painting, with tepid results. The seductive game of peekaboo embedded in his richly layered and abraded paper surfaces simply felt labored in his painted and scraped crosses and checkerboards.
In the 1990s, however, Hill pared things down considerably. Still building up many layers of paint, he created bold, discrete forms with smooth, mysterious surfaces whose richness only emerges around the edges.
The newest stripe paintings, from this year, are now all edge, revealing small worlds of color in their interstices. The effect is not unlike the shadows in a Wayne Thiebaud painting, which vibrate with hidden light. Hills’ latest works possess the same subtle joy.
Leslie Sacks Contemporary, 2525 Michigan Ave., B6, Santa Monica, (310) 264-0640, through Sept. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.lesliesackscontemporary.com