Break­ing rules, to great ef­fect

Los Angeles Times - - Arts & Architecture -

Devin Troy Strother’s solo de­but at Richard Heller Gallery is a dou­ble-bar­reled doozy that es­tab­lishes the 24-year-old artist as a force. His cut-and-paste pic­tures of peo­ple danc­ing and dy­ing zero in on life’s high and low points to say a lot about race in the U.S. to­day.

In the first gallery, 14 col­lages make up “Please, Don’t Act a Fool in the Club: A Me­mory of the Sugar Shack.” Most de­pict dance floors packed with men and women strut­ting their stuff. One shows a blood bath, no less har­row­ing for be­ing a car­toon.

In the sec­ond gallery, “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” con­sists of 13 gen­er­ally larger works that de­pict street scenes. Drug deal­ers, gang­sters and po­lice pre­dom­i­nate. But ven­dors, artists and love-mak­ers steal the show.

A highly orig­i­nal artist, Strother trans­forms scraps of paper into whirlpools suf­fused with all sorts of sto­ries. Think Kara Walker, but less pre­cious. Or Lay­lah Ali, but messier, more am­bigu­ous.

Strother cuts all of his lit­tle paper doll fig­ures from or­di­nary sheets of con­struc­tion paper. He adds glit­ter and paint and glues them loosely so that they over­lap and ex­tend be­yond the edges of his works. Most of the peo­ple he de­picts are black. Al­most all have huge afros. And al­most all are smil­ing.

This sim­ple fact makes Strother’s works stand out from much con­tem­po­rary art, par­tic­u­larly pieces made by the African Amer­i­cans who have made it into the most pres­ti­gious mu­se­ums. Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of joy and hap­pi­ness have been ef­fec­tively off lim­its since racist min­strel shows.

It’s heart­en­ing to see a young artist break the rules by em­brac­ing the up­side of life with­out dumb­ing any­thing down. Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michi­gan Ave., Berg­amot Sta­tion, (310) 453-9191, through Oct. 9. Closed Sun­days and Mon­days. www. richard­hel­ler­gallery.com

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