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Art review: Jim Shaw at Patrick Painter

May 22, 2011 | 11:15 am

JS11

The paintings in Jim Shaw’s latest exhibition, “Cakes, Men in Pain, White Rectangles, Devil in the Details,” are precisely what the title alleges. Each of the works on view at Patrick Painter begins with an ink-jet print of a 1950s image of a cake, which is then painted over in gestural Abstract Expressionist strokes. That background is further layered with a near photorealistic painting of a shirtless man grimacing or squirming in the face of a large, white, painted rectangle. Each rectangle is echoed by a second panel of the same size, covered in swirling gray brushstrokes, hanging beside the first. Shaw has enhanced these strokes in most cases with tiny ink or pencil lines that pull out the barest hint of cartoony faces, body parts, or googly eyes from the muck. On the threshold of perception, you’re not sure the doodles are even really there or just something you invented out of the corner of your eye.

JS10 From a certain perspective, the whole shebang is one big art historical joke, a kind of summary of styles from the latter half of the 20th century. The cakes epitomize 1950s domestic achievement and are fodder for Pop art. The raw, gestural fury of Abstract Expressionism is famously macho, but is topped by realistically rendered, vulnerable men. Then there is the negation of the Minimalist white rectangle, the quiet absence that seems to afflict the men. And finally, the murky second panel that “fills in” that absence is gray and mushy like brain matter, where images emerge on the edge of cognition.

At the risk of reading all of this too literally, the paintings sum up tensions between artistic poles — action versus negation, complicity versus resistance, mind versus body — that surprisingly, don’t cancel each other out, but feel alive and prickly. Esoteric artistic debates may indeed be cringe-worthy, but they also prod us to keep looking and searching, in hopes of finally making something out.

-- Sharon Mizota

Patrick Painter, 2525 Michigan Ave., A8, Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through June 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.patrickpainter.com

Photos, from top: "Cake (Jim Head Clutch)," 2010; "Cake (Jim Bent)," 2011. Credit: LeeAnn Nickel,  Los Angeles.

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