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Art review: Charles Karubian at Jancar Gallery

May 22, 2011 | 10:45 am

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Executed in sludgy browns and grays, Charles Karubian’s paintings at Jancar Gallery tweak the genre of the studio nude. At first, they look like images of naked women standing in piles of trash, contorting their bodies in front of a draped backdrop. Then it becomes clear that embedded in Karubian’s broad brushwork are faces — the walls and floor are lined with the crumpled, distorted visages of politicians. It’s an odd combination — throwing female nudity and political portraiture into the same muddy morass — and it’s troubling, but perhaps not for the reasons the artist intends.

To Karubian’s credit, his work brings to mind the deadpan physicality of Lucian Freud’s posed, desultory nudes. But whereas Freud’s works are usually intimate, unvarnished images of people he knows, Karubian’s feel distant and generic. The figures are in some cases almost camouflaged against the unruly background. And though one could argue that the politicians depicted — including Ted Kennedy, Sarah Palin and Hosni Mubarak — are people we all “know,” that recognition, however delayed, only makes the women’s bodies seem more symbolic than specific.

This is where the work becomes problematic. It’s not because a naked woman is squatting over a portrait of John Boehner. It’s the use of the female body as a symbol of the denigration that such an act implies. The female nude has traditionally stood in for any number of abstract ideas, from music and poetry to sex and debauchery, but that's no excuse. It seems to me that the broader critique or ridicule Karubian appears to be angling toward could be just as well conveyed by any naked body — regardless of sex — and the work might feel less stereotypical.

-- Sharon Mizota

Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Road, (213) 625-2522, through May 28. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.jancargallery.com

Photo:  "Figure, Poised Over Boehner and Another," 2011. Credit: Jancar Gallery.

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