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Art review: Tim Ebner at Rosamund Felsen Gallery

January 15, 2010 |  7:30 pm

400.TE_10_10 Abstract paintings come in all sizes but not many shapes. That's because if a painter wants to be taken seriously, he's expected to stick to the regular format, squares and rectangles, throwing in an occasional circle or oval when he wants to get wild.

Tim Ebner's new works take the notion of shaped paintings far beyond these parameters, making them seem silly and not nearly as ambitious as his terrifically eccentric paintings, which are shaped like exotic fish.

 To step into Rosamund Felsen Gallery is to immerse yourself in a world of luscious color, exuberant brush strokes and fish of all shapes and stripes.

It's great fun and, like lots of the 56-year-old artist's 21 solo shows in Los Angeles over the last 28 years, an unexpected departure that attests to Ebner's inventiveness and his unwillingness to stick to a tried and true style.

Each of Ebner's two dozen fish is unlike any other. All are canvas on panel. The shapes of some are realistic. Others are imaginary. Many are adorned with feathers, beads and baubles, as well as antennae-style wires and fake eyelashes. One is made of bread. Another wears glasses.

All are mounted on rusty metal bars that extend from a few inches to more than four feet from the walls. This makes the festive fish seem to be swimming in midair. All are dolled up with carefully placed lumps of Sculpy, an easy-to-use modeling compound that causes many of Ebner's rainbow-colored fish to appear to have collagen-enhanced lips, surgically improved cheekbones and Botox-smoothed brows. Think Palm Springs meets Pixar, by way of a precocious kid's coloring book.

 And that's just the beginning. Ebner's freewheeling brushwork steals the show. It's messy without being muddled; energized without being expressive; forceful yet free of the pompous bombast so common to much improvised abstraction. 400.TE_10_gallery-2

Part of Ebner's originality has to do with his palette, a delicious mixture of organic and unnatural tints. But most of it has to do with the stark contrast between the juicy fluidity of his promiscuously mixed pigments and the crisp contours of his fishes' silhouettes, each neatly cut with a jigsaw. Some outlines are graceful and sinuous, just like real fish.

Others are goofy and cartoon, just like real fish. Still others are zany and make-believe, unlike anything in the real world.

This body of work began when Ebner got bored painting on flat surfaces.

To throw himself a curve, he dug a hole in his backyard and filled it with cement. When the cement dried, he dug up the rough, spherical lump, set it on a table in his studio and stretched canvases over it.

 Painting over a 3-D form was sufficiently disorienting to free Ebner from lazy habits. It allowed him to see things with fresh eyes. The next step, of cutting his canvases into fish shapes, has no logical explanation. It's just Ebner's hyperactive imagination making a leap, a leap of faith that does not worry about going off the deep end but delights in the discoveries to be found there.

– David Pagel

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Feb. 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.)

Images: Untitled (pink and black), 2009. Courtesy of Rosamund Felsen Gallery, photo: Grant Mudford.