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Art review: Daniel Douke at Peter Mendenhall

June 24, 2011 |  6:00 am

DoukeReunionDaniel Douke practices trompe l’oeil illusionism of the most generous sort, bent not just on fooling the eye but tantalizing it, challenging it, engaging and massaging the link connecting eye and mind. Ten recent works at Peter Mendenhall make for a stimulating visual and perceptual adventure. 

Douke’s paintings masquerade as sculptures mimicking common objects. From the front, they present as mailboxes, shipping boxes, packing crates and cereal cartons. From behind (a view easily attained with the freestanding pieces), they clearly reveal themselves to be paintings on canvas, stretched over wood, the panels joined to achieve a depth akin to the objects they represent. The illusions are, at once, both persuasive and transparent, the work of a sophisticated trickster adept at crossing boundaries and mixing messages.

Consider “Reunion,” a dazzling evocation of the humble. Douke paints a short stack of three packages, scuffed survivors of the postal service, and mounts them on the wall. With extraordinary precision, he transforms the painted surfaces into utterly convincing renditions of matte brown paper, glossy packing tape, a shipping label (and fragment of its torn plastic pouch), cardboard marked with pen, stamped and silkscreened. The crisscrossing, reinforcing strands embedded in extra-strength packing tape are visible like veins beneath skin. Near some corners, darkened ripples appear, as of the raised ribs of corrugated cardboard abraded by wear and pressure. Wall-mounted boxes inevitably call to mind the clean geometry and industrial perfection of Donald Judd, to whom Douke nods appreciatively and mischievously, stacking his own boxes slightly out of line and answering Minimalism’s smooth, impersonal surfaces with his own intense handwork.

DoukeOnus “Vow” replicates a packing crate, standing on end, stapled at the seams, its woodgrain surface blacked by fingerprints and the stuttering skids of contact with a forklift. In “Onus,” Douke paints a jaunty column of six standard mailboxes, all embossed with official eagle and statement of authenticity. One is a robin’s egg blue, another rust-speckled cream, and another an utterly persuasive raw galvanized steel. It’s no coincidence that most of the objects Douke paints are containers — his paintings are less windows onto the external world than carriers of possibility in themselves. They hum with art historical associations, to Minimalism and Pop, Warhol and Duchamp. Douke, who lives and long taught in L.A., has finessed a convergence of the ready-made and the handmade.

The self-referentiality of his work pegs it as modern, if not postmodern, but its roots stretch back to the Dutch still life tradition of the 16th century and its American adherents (Harnett, Peto and others) in the 19th. Their paintings of written correspondence, books, postcards, newspaper clippings, photographs and paper currency mixed in autobiographical clues with cultural ephemera. Douke’s paintings similarly incite viewers to “look at the overlooked,” as Norman Bryson has written of the still-life legacy. And not just look, but stare, scrutinize, savor, puzzle out and marvel.

-- Leah Ollman

Peter Mendenhall Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 936-0061, through July 16. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.petermendenhallgallery.com

Photos, from top: Daniel Douke, "Reunion"; "Onus." From Peter Mendenhall Gallery.


 
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