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Art review: Deanna Thompson at William Griffin Gallery

December 16, 2010 |  5:00 pm

ThompsonD Black-eyed Homestead Deanna Thompson is not the first artist to contemplate the isolation of dwellings located in the unforgiving harshness of the California desert. Usually, however, that subject is not fodder for painters but for photographers -- John Divola, say, or Mark Ruwedel.

For her inaugural solo exhibition at William Griffin Gallery, Thompson shows five large vertical canvases, plus two large and six small horizontals, all with the same general format. A flat-roofed house -- a shack, really -- is anchored to a horizon line beneath an expansive sky and vast field of sandy brown. A Bakersfield native who lives in Yucca Valley, she knows the landscape well.

Most of the shacks are ruins, viewed head-on, a rectangle within the rectangular painted field. The vertical paintings, each 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide, are the most convincing, perhaps because they exploit a viewer's bodily scale. Sometimes Thompson's images get lost in illusionistic landscape-painting techniques, which offer little more than description; but elsewhere, a more salutary devil is in the details.

In one, the shadow play cast by upright posts doesn't seem to conform with optical reality, imbuing the scene with quiet mystery. The face of another shack looks back like a blank stare, adding a sense of subtle desperation. A small slab of broken concrete by one front door has been reclaimed by desert scrub, as if the only obviously living thing for miles around was trying to get inside, out of the scorching sun.

The show is uneven. At her best, though, Thompson paints evocations of the isolation of an artist alone in a studio manufacturing images with unostentatious integrity.

-- Christopher Knight

William Griffin Gallery, 2902 Nebraska St., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6886, through Jan. 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photo: Deanna Thompson, "Black-Eyed Homestead," 2010. Credit: William Griffin Gallery