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Art review: Mark Leonard at Louis Stern Fine Arts

July 8, 2011 |  6:30 am

Leonard Triptych The warp and weft depicted in Mark Leonard's abstract paintings together establish a kind of painterly Morse code. An observant viewer can directly decipher them, even if their message intends to remain elusive.

At Louis Stern Fine Arts, Leonard shows 17 paintings and 14 drawings in which a linear grid is rendered as a loose, open weave. Light glows at the place where one broad line crosses over another and at the two places where a line crosses beneath another. Tonal backgrounds shift between dark and light, further elaborating illusions of space.

The complexity of Leonard's maneuvers accelerate. The wide, woven lines are actually indistinguishable from shapes. Color is inseparable from light. Solid is identical to void.

Some works allude to historical formats. Several triptychs suggest traditional European altarpieces. In one, the crosses in its central panel of red-orange and yellow-green color are like the structure of a Mannerist crucifixion scene, while its black and white wings recall the illusion of gray stone sculptures painted by artists like Hugo van der Goes or Rogier van der Weyden. Southern and Northern Europe are interwoven, as are figurative and abstract traditions.

Leonard paints on panels. However, since the weave is a greatly enlarged picture of a painting's more common support of canvas, even the surface image merges with the physicality of material. In these works' most captivating sleight-of-hand, surface becomes support.

A mixture of gouache and resin is applied in short, tight marks, almost like the in-fill used by painting conservators who are repairing damaged Old Masters. (Leonard was the head of paintings conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum for many years, prior to his 2010 retirement.) The effect emphasizes Minimalist anonymity, even if the visual result can be somewhat brittle.

Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 276-0147, through Aug. 6. Closed Sun. and Mon.


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-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Mark Leonard, "Triptych," 2011, gouache and resin on panel. Credit: Louis Stern Fine Arts