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Art review: Nicole Eisenman, 'New Paintings' at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

May 5, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Nicole Eisenman did not invent Cartoon Primitivism. But she’s at the head of this class of painting, which combines the accessibility of cartoons with the meatiness of simplified forms and vigorously smeared pigments. Her 12 paintings at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects cover an impressive range of territory, sometimes skimming too quickly over depths that should be dived into and at others fearlessly belly-flopping into the muck, where nothing is pure, high-minded or stuffy — and all the better for it.

Eisenman Eisenman’s paintings fall into three groups: solo portraits, kissing couples and multi-figure scenarios.

At approximately 6-by-5 feet, the “Large Heads” are not the biggest pictures. But they contain the most largely scaled faces. These crudely rendered figures are derived from ancient icons, amped-up graphics and African artifacts, by way of Picasso. Think Guston meets Haring, the existential dread of the former countered by the giddy zing of the latter.

Eisenman’s kissing couples stir Chagall, Renoir and Klimt into the mix, along with Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Jim Lutes. This makes for a volatile cocktail that is deliciously distasteful, both attractive and repulsive.

The largest canvases, “Tea Party” and “The Drawing Class,” along with the slightly smaller “Séance,” are Eisenman’s most compositionally adventuresome and narratively complex. Their ham-fisted paint-handling is spot-on. It sets scenes at once ordinary and out of whack.

That’s Eisenman’s MO — making familiar situations alien, simultaneously accessible and off-putting, troublesome and irresistible.

-- David Pagel

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through June 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Nicole Eisenman, "Large Head 2." Credit: Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects