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Art review: Nathan Redwood at Michael Kohn Gallery

April 2, 2010 |  6:30 pm
400.redwood.yard Everything is at loose ends in Nathan Redwood's paintings – flailing electrical cords, floating furniture – except for the artist's own sturdy and enthralling talent. Redwood extracts performances from pigment that are vigorous, persuasive, captivating. He paints insistently in the present tense, each canvas a teeming now, perpetually at the boiling point.

 But there is also something of the past in Redwood's work, a reverence for the texture of the worn and familiar, and a hint of the future, of a post-apocalyptic landscape broken, barren and toxic.

 Consider "The Yard" (2009), among the most absorbing of Redwood's new paintings at Michael Kohn. In the middle distance sits a gabled house, set within a seething, groundless ground of ocher, umber and greenish gray. Whether unstable earth or turbulent, muddied waters, earthquake-churned or flood-driven, the scene suggests massive upheaval. From within the epic cataclysm, there emerges in the foreground a personal response: an assortment of mismatched chairs standing on patches of hardwood flooring, an ad hoc patio.

Affixed to the chairs are  planks and poles. Attached to the planks are a few flowerpots, and out of those and numerous other openings sprout long-stemmed tulips in splendidly incongruous black and white. There's a tenuousness to the whole assembly, a sense of momentary equilibrium. A bowl balanced on a stick brings to mind the spinning plates of circus performers. Putting that prop next to what looks like a fragmented easel, Redwood links one kind of stage magic to another, the painter's. He too is an entertainer, skilled at lavish gestures, a manufacturer of wonder, adept at ensnaring the eye and tickling the mind.

Redwood's work has huge surface appeal: He paints in a palette of metal, wood, dirt and water, erosion, poison and rust, the acrylic pigment thinned but the colors intense. His brush strokes feel dimensional in themselves, contrived parodies, perhaps, of a straight-from-the-tube rawness. Their colossal snaky lines wind across the canvas and double back like the labyrinthine path of intestines.

For all of its physical immediacy, Redwood's world churns with complexity. Playfulness and provocation chase each other's tails. Trauma shadows ebullience. Not only a piquant visual feast, "The Yard," for instance, testifies to a spirit of endurance in the midst of turmoil (the makeshift gathering place), and to the irrepressible human impulse toward whimsy (the oddball constructions) and beauty (the flowers).
 An air of resourcefulness threaded through the images of oddball contraptions in Redwood's first local show in 2007, at Carl Berg, and whiffs of it remain here. In "Carried Away" (2008), the L.A.-based artist depicts an electric fan sitting on a plank, balanced on the other end by a coffee mug. The fan blows light-edged bubbles through wands protruding from a mike stand and paint bucket, which rest atop a wood and concrete block construction, upon which leans a shovel with broken– and mended –handle. The fan's cord wraps around the planks and block, looping through the streaky, blood-red air and hovers, the plug powered by nothing but viscous atmosphere. The hues are hellish, but the mood is easy, spirited.

 Not all of the nine paintings here exude such rich confusion. Some are more psychologically dense than others, but even when the narrative possibilities are slighter, the visual fields are consistently succulent. Redwood is a painter of energy, not unlike Julie Mehretu or Iva Gueorguieva in terms of generating pure power. His extravagance leans toward both the baroque and the surreal. Much has fed into this work (from the frothy seas of maritime painting to the crutches of Dali), and Redwood is more than generous in giving back.

– Leah Ollman

Michael Kohn Gallery, 8071 Beverly Blvd., (323) 658-8088, through May 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: The Yard, (2009), top, and Carried Away, (2008). Courtesy of Michael Kohn Gallery.