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Review: Becca Mann at Roberts & Tilton

January 29, 2009 |  1:00 pm

A Young Bull About to Be Sacrificed by the Cheremis c. 1900

The long-standing dialogue between painting and photography finds eloquent, if not especially radical, expression in the work of Becca Mann.

Her second solo show at Roberts & Tilton presents six paintings and three drawings based on found photographs of imperial Russia. The images — which primarily depict members of the aristocracy, their properties and their livestock — are solemn and poignant, imbued with a sense of elegance and doom. Several involve members of the Romanov dynasty, whose gruesome end at the hands of the Bolsheviks lends a stirring pathos to their solemnity in the images.

The drawings and paintings, which range from roughly 11 inches square to nearly 5 feet across, are exquisite. Mann’s technique is painstakingly precise yet driven by a poetic sensibility. Subtle accents such as a thin blue outline around the figure of a horseman, a smoky blurring of the leaves of trees in the distance, or the dreamy emphasis on highlights and the glare of the sun underscore the painterly nature of the project while preserving the distinctive quirks of the photograph. This isn’t photorealism exactly, but something along the lines of a reverse pictorialism — painting poeticized via select elaboration of the romantic tendencies of photography.

The painterly manipulation of photographs is so common by now that it would scarcely bear mentioning as distinctive if Mann didn’t do both media such lovely justice, suggesting that the relationship between the two has grown comfortable but by no means complacent.

-- Holly Myers

Roberts & Tilton, 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 549-0223, through Feb. 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photo: Becca Mann's "A Young Bull About to Be Sacrificed by the Cheremis c. 1900" (2008/09), oil on canvas. Credit: Roberts & Tilton