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Art review: Jow at Marine Contemporary

October 13, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Jow, "California Nights"
Spoken language has its musicality, written language its visuality, a purely graphic presence as shape and pattern. How those shapes and patterns translate — or not — into meaning has long been fertile ground for artists. Jow, a Canadian transplant to L.A., enters the terrain close on the heels of Tauba Auerbach, whose paintings and books of the last half-decade have cannily explored the visual potency of a variety of written alphabets. Jow, too, is drawn to code. In a previous series of works on paper, she took passages from novels set in New York and embossed them in Braille, forming the city’s silhouetted skyline out of the tiny raised dots.

In her slyly engaging new work at Marine Contemporary, Jow spells out song lyrics in Morse code in high-gloss acrylic and polyurethane. The text on all eight panels derives from songs about California from the ‘60s and ‘70s, exactly when text/image interplay in art surged and when hard-edged geometric abstraction like this was one of the norms as well. Jow courts a multitude of associations, creating wonderful visual/verbal double-entendres like “California Nights,” where the lines from a Lesley Gore song, in white dots and dashes against black, seem to recede in space like a light-speckled urban nightscape seen from above, a field of oncoming headlights, or — as suggested by the lyric that the shapes spell out — the moonlit froth of the incoming tide. A group of smart and snide drawings on old hotel letterhead and a mildly clever neon sign piece round out this snappy little show.

-- Leah Ollman

Marine Contemporary, 1733-A Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-0294, through Saturday.

Image: Jow, "California Nights." Credit: Marine Contemporary