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Review: Frank Ryan at Walter Maciel Gallery

May 29, 2009 | 11:00 am

Bed As a subject of art, the unmade bed comes preloaded with a psychological charge. It’s the site of sexual aftermath, a platform for dreams, a stage for intimacy or a frame around intimacy’s flip side, loneliness. In Frank Ryan’s new paintings at Walter Maciel Gallery, the bed is less a spur for emotional excavation than the object of thoughtful, sometimes invigorating formal exercise.

A slightly elevated view of the young L.A. artist’s bed dominates each of the 15 modestly scaled panels. The sequence reads as a chronicle, a daily record of observations: the way bedding rumples or masses, how a window barely contains the light and greenery beyond it, how a cat settles in compactly against navy blue sheets or a dog nestles into a white duvet. The brush strokes define each scene with a studied looseness.

Ryan takes more risks in the five larger paintings on canvas. Deviations from convention invest the work with complexity and throw it, usefully, a little off balance. In one painting, he lays a florescent light fixture down the length of the bed like a landing strip, a Newman zip or a nod to Flavin’s neon sculptures. In the same piece, the near edge of the bed devolves into a Richter blur.

The show’s most compelling work (bearing the unfortunate title “Tussle Tango”) has a nervy, provisional feel, with its window-blind of skewed olive and dusky violet streaks, the duvet yearning to one corner where it gives way to blurry diffusion, and the corner behind a dresser radiating a surprising magenta. The bedroom scene itself is as familiar as ever, but any painting this vital and complex is a new thrill.

-- Leah Ollman

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 839-1840, through July 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: "Unmade 02/08/09," (2009), oil on canvas over wood panel. Credit: Walter Maciel Gallery