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Art review: Nathaniel de Large at Cirrus Gallery

December 19, 2009 |  9:00 am

400.blindsnake-23 The odd assortment of stuff that makes up the 13 pieces in Nathaniel de Large's first solo show, at Cirrus Gallery, would not be out of place in a dumpster, or piled in some dusty corner, awaiting disposal.

The devotion the young L.A. artist brings to such unremarkable things as chicken wire, cardboard shipping tubes and chunks of asphalt, however, has much in common with the specialized work done by high-end manufacturers of one-of-a-kind items or by uber-skilled restorers of valuable antiques: It is precise, purposeful and labor-intensive, almost but not quite obsessive, compulsive, monomaniacal.

This combination of cast-off objects and exquisite attentiveness reveals De Large to be a true eccentric: a light-handed junk-picker whose search for quirky stuff is only the beginning of an out-of-step quest to refashion the world into a playground for the imagination. Wonder, spiked with a shot of gentle absurdity, is the Holy Grail he coaxes into existence with his DIY inventions.

Draftsmanship matters to De Large, whose works are often made up of delicate lines. In addition to pencils and marking pens, he traces lines through space with carefully placed rubber bands, a broom handle, a potted plant and a string of silver necklaces. Some of his lines are fragile and tenuous, barely hanging in there to get the job done. Others are crisp, geometric and persistent, to the point of being relentless. But most are relaxed, as casual as happenstance.

To make the two largest works, De Large used a blade to cut through layers of cardboard, paper and laminate. "Blind Snake," a sprawling collage-cum-wall relief, is filled with nervous energy. "T-tube" is the sculptural equivalent of nail-biting anxiety, its simple form shot through with intractable bad habits.

Destruction and creation come together most forcefully in the smallest piece, a pocket sketchbook with pages worn through by overwork. Set on a pedestal in the corner, the easy-to-miss piece is a treasure trove of doodles and noodlings that pays homage to Lucas Samaras as it does its own thing.

A short video is also exemplary. On a scavenged TV resting in a shopping cart, "The Body as a Bubble Wand" shows De Large lying on his back in a homemade pool filled with soapy water. His legs occasionally emerge from the bath, ankles crossed, knees apart. The wind does the rest, blowing big, lumbering bubbles that travel a short distance and pop.

It's utterly silly. But its pace is relaxing, its set-up endearing, its modest drama enchanting. You find yourself rooting for De Large's bubbles, hoping that each one lasts  longer than it does. With a deft touch, De Large gets viewers to experience the world as a loopy adventure, a meandering journey filled with serendipitous twists and wonderful turns that keep us on our toes, almost dancing.

– David Pagel

Cirrus Gallery, 542 S. Alameda St., (213) 680-3473, through Jan. 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cirrusgallery.com

Image: Blind Snake. Photo credit: Gene Ogami.

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