Art review: 'Chris Barnard: Toward Trinity' at Luis de Jesus
Romantic traditions of American landscape painting get apocalyptic comeuppance from our post-nuclear era in eight new paintings by Chris Barnard. Dubbed "Toward Trinity," presumably after the New Mexico blast site where the first nuclear weapon was detonated 66 years ago, the works are a pointedly unhealthful concoction of glamour and destruction, thrilling power and impending ruination.
Last year Barnard showed paintings fusing imagery of military power with abstraction. He goes for a similar blend here, at the new Culver City location of Luis de Jesus Gallery. The balance is tough to capture, but he manages it more often than not.
The most compelling example is a desert vista with a florid sky as dramatic as anything Albert Bierstadt or Frederic Edwin Church painted in 19th-Century expansionist glorification of a Jacksonian Western landscape. Barnard puts a modern viewing stand -- a notably empty grid, the spectators absent or perhaps vaporized -- in the foreground; there, it faces a cold white flash of intense light at the distant horizon.
Almost imperceptibly, the heavenly clouds begin to wrap the viewing stand far below. (The stand also seems to be dissolving.) It's an impossible feat of natural science, but a direct hit of painterly artifice.
Luis de Jesus, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-6000, through Oct. 15. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.luisdejesus.com
-- Christopher Knight
Photo: Chris Barnard, "Crowd Pleaser (New Mexico)," 2011, oil on canvas, 48x64." Credit: Luis de Jesus Gallery