Art review: Abel Baker Gutierrez at Luis de Jesus Gallery
Fourteen modest recent paintings by Abel Baker Gutierrez, all but one on wood panel, have the look and feel of oil sketches. The abbreviation of the paint-handling is beneficial. Rather than laborious finish, which would suggest a declarative statement, the sketchiness is a painterly equivalent of drawing. Wistful rumination and reflection emerge.
For his debut solo show at Luis de Jesus Gallery, what is Gutierrez asking us to join him in thinking about? Adolescent boys are adrift in watery fields -- rocking in small rowboats, engaging in rescues, giving and receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In one, a pair of slightly askew legs is all that remains of a body disappearing into roiling blue water. (There's nothing sinister about the image, just the suggestion of falling backward into the deep.) Affection and loss are leitmotifs.
"Adrift," which homes in on a boy snoozing lazily within a boat's enveloping hull, juxtaposes a crimson shirt and white shorts in the watery scene. It's a quietly patriotic color scheme. Gutierrez has based his works on old scouting manuals and magazines, and you can't help but think the paintings are a call to "be prepared" on a more general, less dogmatic, nonetheless important level.
An exclusively male world imbued with homoerotic undertones -- not unlike those of Thomas Eakins' "The Swimming Hole" -- is characterized by conflict between isolation and mutual care. "Gazing at his Own Reflection" shows the sun-blasted, down-turned head of a youth who becomes a metaphoric Narcissus, gazing into a pool but unaware that he's seeing himself.
In the back gallery, a short video digitally altered from a found film is presented in negative rather than positive black-and-white. Seven young scouts (you can tell from the uniforms) jump and play in slow-motion on outdoor picnic-table benches to a dream-like musical soundtrack. Wild boys released from the social constraints implied by their specific clothing glow with quiet grace.
Luis de Jesus Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7773, through Aug. 27. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.luisdejesus.com
— Christopher Knight
Photo: Abel Baker Gutierrez, "Rescue Breathing While Treading Water," 2010, oil on panel. Credit: Luis de Jesus Gallery