Christopher Russell’s first solo show for the Luis de Jesus Gallery at Bergamont Station in Santa Monica, is an exploration into how images make up a narrative. It starts off with some abstract prints: a pattern motif encapsulated by a series of X-Acto knife slashes that form a “frame” around the image. The borders are spray-painted and blurred, turning the whole thing into a vignette – a memory of nothing. Along with the collage-like illustrations in the back room, these pieces resonate like a confused echo of the decadent romanticism Russell displayed last year at the Hammer Museum. The show includes a giant, hand-illustrated, hand-bound tome, behind which hang monochromatic prints of varying sizes, each one a different version of a ship lost at sea or sinking into a foggy gray backdrop. Unencumbered by spray paint and X-Acto knife slashes, they seem to bring a bit of peace to the show, even if they fail to deliver an emotional impact with sail ships boxed into a postcard-sized frame or placed almost cartoonishly aslant on a larger print.
The spray-painted, X-Acto carved vignettes pick up again in the next room, and this time they are not abstract patterns but color photographs, somber depictions of lakeside settings and wooded trails. I found myself looking at one image and another from different angles, like a kid in winter peering through the dry portion of an otherwise frosted window. I was trying to get at the image behind the framed vignette and gave up, wondering: why does Christopher Russell want me to go through all these cumbersome, unnecessary hoops. The same can be said for most of the show. These prints, that have been turned into scratch drawings, that have been turned into illustrations, that have been turned into pseudo-carvings do not conspire to create a sense of mystery and wonder but rather places a great distance between the viewer and the image. Russell’s technique here creates a disconnect between us and his narrative.
Among the affected, belabored, and mutilated works of the show, there are two pieces, which, with a quiet, simple dignity, do invite the viewer into a story. The first is a picture of a lakeside setting, framed, on whose glass face Russell has etched trees and branches and leaves and clouds; a fairytale foreground scratched on in thin, white, barely visible contours. The next one is almost too clever to be mysterious. It is one image (a few tree branches) arranged four ways (flipped and replicated and positioned) to look like a giant, empty eye. Done in a softer, bluer gray than the ghost ship prints, it stands there as the last image of the show, a sort of lone testament to storytelling and abstract narrative: that we see ourselves in nature, who transforms into pieces of our memory and ultimately into something bigger than our palpable reality.
After Luis de Jesus, I stopped in at the William Turner Gallery who is showing recent paintings by Andy Moses. It was kind of like having a mint after a heavy dinner. Where Mr. Russell’s images are dark and haunting and greedily demanding of your visual faculty, Andy Moses’ paintings offer vibrant but dulcet colors in pearly sheens. They are spread on concave canvases that resemble cinemascope movie theaters and catch the light differently depending on where you stand. It would be utter gimmickry, if it weren’t for the patterns he paints: something resembling natural wood grain.
The lines curve and meander like they would in nature, but here Moses has colored them a pearlescent blue or red or silver. Most often, the paintings are monochromatic, with a stray streak of a complementary color. The eye moves horizontally across the canvas, and one can almost imagine the artist standing there going over it with a wide painter’s brush. It all looks so uniform, and yet upon closer inspection the fine lines come through. It’s like the reverse of a Jackson Pollock, a very Zen-like universe where paint is thin and colors are just gradations of air.
These paintings don’t imprint themselves on the mind’s retina as poignantly as Mr. Russell’s images, but what they give up in impact they make up for as a nepenthe by providing a place of rest and sensory meditation.
Christopher Russell: Runaway – October 23- November 27
Luis de Jesus, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Bergamont Station F2, Santa Monica CA, 90404
Andy Moses: Recent Paintings – October 23 – December 4
William Turner Gallery, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Bergamont Station E1, Santa Monica CA, 90404