Breathtaking beauty and stomach-turning ugliness get our attention in ways that ordinary stuff doesn’t. At Western Project, Cole Case steers clear of extremes to make paintings both pedestrian and unforgettable, in style and subject. The combination amazes, moving viewers without hand-flapping theatrics or tempest-in-a-teacup selfishness.
Case’s subjects are simple: the concrete spillways that crisscross Los Angeles, a roadside field under a cloudy sky and loose bunches of flowers, arranged in glass vases or stuck in a gallon milk jug. Casual, unspectacular and matter of fact, Case’s landscapes match similar scenes glimpsed by drivers on streets all over the city.
His still lifes are even more mundane. Each homes in on a scraggly bouquet whose flowers, stems and leaves seem to have grown tired of each other, not quite at cross purposes but far from harmonic. Too deliberate to be truly forlorn, Case’s bouquets suggest that an undercurrent of instability flows beneath their carefully worked surfaces. The desperation of hanging on too tightly — or trying too hard — burbles up from the depths of these deceptively simple images.
Case handles paint like nobody’s business, thinning it down, in some instances, so that it feels like the mist on a cold winter morning. At other times he massages it on thickly, crafting densely textured passages that have the presence of three-dimensional things. At still others, he lets it get messy, allowing rebel brushstrokes to go off on their own. Case is at his best when he makes everyday reality seem to glow.
A kind of childlike decisiveness suffuses every square inch of his meaty pictures. It’s the clarity of innocence that transforms Case’s point-blank paintings into enchanting fantasies you can’t look away from.
Western Project, 2762 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 838-0609, through Dec. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.western-project.com