January 8 - February 19, 2005 at Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywoodby Andy Brumer
Moira Hahn’s exhibition, “Twilight Chorus,” and Wes Christensen’s “American Shots” are both examples of polished and thought provoking representational art. While Hahn’s small watercolor paintings on paper and Christensen’s even more diminutive watercolor, gauche and colored pencil works couldn’t diverge more radically in terms of imagery and spatial dynamics, a brooding and foreboding emotional intensity unites them. Both artists employ a narrative surface to convey their works’ essentially lyrical notes and poetic depths.
Indeed, a wildly transgressive, Zen-like menagerie of Japanese deities, demons and anime characters populates and plays in Hahn’s work. In a printed statement, the artist says that ideas for some of her pieces also come from observations of the natural world, particularly the habits of the wild birds and feral cats that lurk in her backyard. In “The Revenge of the Tori,” a studio full of lasciviously-beaked birds (elegantly attired in classical 19th century robes) paint “wanted posters” of their own neighborhood cat, who watches stage right while exhaling gleeful fire from his grinning mouth. Surely you’ve see some of these creatures in your own neighborhood.
In “At the Ball,” fierce tigers stare antagonistically toward the viewer, while pairs of rabbits, turtles and kangaroos dance inside of randomly floating, sky-blue spheres (the pun of dancing at a ball happening inside of balls seems intended). An angelic monkey drives the narrative by serenading the affair from an omniscient perch in the upper right hand corner of the piece. Another, gentler painting fashions a flock of “Ravens” and their shadows flying into an interlocking graphic pattern presented with dispassionate and meditative ease.
The “Heaven and Hell” series brilliantly weds Buddhist and Christian concepts of the afterlife in paintings that swirl with both technical control and iconoclastic abandon. One can’t help but think of Peter Paul Reubens' classic Baroque torque, the raucous personages of Thomas Hart Benton, and the Pop/Ukiyo-e fusions of formerly L.A.-based Masami Teraoka.
Christensen’s work, by contrast and on the surface, presents calm, staid and still scenes, often peopled with ordinary looking folk who wear their pallid detachment like laboratory specimens. However, closer looking yields unfolding ideas, meanings and associations, akin to Jacques Derrida deconstructing a simple discursive sentence to find complexities therein. The show’s title, “American Shots,” refers to the cinematic “two shot ” technique commonly seen in films from the 1930’s and 40’s, where the frame crops two or more actors from the knees up. Similarly, Christensen’s tableaux freeze individuals, pairs or larger groups of people in clearly ambiguous actions or activities.
He bases one tongue-in-cheek work on an 1880’s photograph of the proto Expressionist James Ensor and a friend dueling with human skeletal bones on the beach. For Christensen’s painting, titled “Charades,” the artist recruited two L.A. figurative painters, Peter Zokosky and F. Scott Hess, to pose in a similar combative manner. An uninformed viewer not aware of this art historical reference might only have his or her imagination to complete the scene, just as people playing a game of Charades often search wildly to find meaning in their teammates’ awkward improvisational gestures. The title also signals that the image is a send-up, even if the particulars of the background remain unknown to the viewer.
Some paintings feel more enigmatic than others. In “Scavenger,” a young Caucasian guy holding some loose sheets of paper appears to be arguing with an older Latino man, as if actor and director were disagreeing about how to best perform a scene. An Asian teenager peers up at them (she could be the playwright in this “story”) as if grafted to or crawling out from the inside a wooden box or desk. The logic is twisted to suggest the imagery is that of a dream. For all their realist precision, these works are left open to personal interpretation and the play of informed association. That Christensen signs seals and delivers the invitation so unpretentiously deserves our esteem.