Review: Michelle Muldrow’s landscapes of consumerism

Edmund Burke, the 18th century philosopher best known in an art context for his writings on the sublime, is not a name that generally comes to mind when thinking about Home Depot. Cleveland-based painter Michelle Muldrow draws a plausible connection, however, in her second solo show at Koplin Del Rio, transposing the tenets of western landscape painting — a tradition heavily influenced by Burke’s concept of the sublime as that aspect of nature that inspires terror and awe — to the banal terrain of the big-box store.

It takes a moment or two to distinguish the details in Muldrow’s lush, colorful compositions, but once you do they’re inescapably familiar: racks of clothing, stacks of patio chairs, long corridors of potted plants, vaulted panels of fluorescent lighting. Are terror and awe reasonable responses to the determined ubiquity of Target red? Muldrow would seem to be suggesting as much.

As in earlier works exploring the urban landscape of Los Angeles, Muldrow has a keen eye for the gaps that lurk between reality and representation — between what we really see in the world and what we think we want to see. She is a talented painter, and it’s clear that she’s struggling in these works with her capacity to beautify.

Deftly rendered in casein paint and graphite on clay panel, characterized by silken surfaces and patchworks of vivid, liquefied color, the works are undeniably seductive. The effect is complicated, however, by a note of repugnance — toward the bloated scale, the spectacle of excess, the materialistic ideology behind big-box phenomena.

It is this nagging tug between seduction and repugnance — echoing as it does the tug between desire and conscience in the consumer sphere — that makes these works more than just pretty landscape paintings.


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Koplin Del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through June 16. Closed Sunday and Monday.