Grand flour­ishes of paint

An edgy rest­less­ness runs through Sarah Cain’s cap­ti­vat­ing show at Honor Fraser.


As a pain­ter, Sarah Cain is a ma­jor fan­girl. Not the va­pid or un­in­ter­est­ing kind but an in­ci­sive, se­ri­ously play­ful and in­tensely tal­ented ob­ses­sive.

She is fix­ated on putting paint where it be­longs, which could be just about any­where. The 20 re­sults in her sec­ond solo show at Honor Fraser Gallery range from splen­did to mag­nif­i­cent.

Cain has lav­ished paint on walls, floor, ceil­ing, up­hol­stered fur­ni­ture, wood fur­ni­ture, dol­lar bills sus­pended from monofil­a­ment and rec­tan­gles of can­vas hang­ing loose or stretched on var­i­ously sized frames (con­ven­tion­ally known as paint­ings). She pairs paint with gold and sil­ver leaf, stereo head­phones, beads, a pot holder, neck­laces, thread, crys­tals, dried roses, sea shells, a huge palm frond, a broom, a f lower vase, sand, string and glit­ter.

Loosely fem­i­nine con­no­ta­tions have been his­tor­i­cally as­signed to most of those other ob­jects and ma­te­ri­als. Cain cheer­fully ups that so­cially de­ter­mined ante with her spe­cific choice of fur­ni­ture: a thrift-shop van­ity with a tall mir­ror, where a viewer is re­flected amid var­i­ous styles of elab­o­rately painted sur­face, or a mod­ern love seat and Chip­pen­dale bed­room dresser that each hosts its own en­thu­si­as­tic paint­ing.

Loosely mas­cu­line con­no­ta­tions, by con­trast, have been his­tor­i­cally as­signed to paint­ing in gen­eral and ab­stract paint­ing in par­tic­u­lar. The grit­ti­ness and spark in Cain’s work comes from the fric­tion be­tween the two, build­ing on sim­i­larly aligned Pat­tern and Dec­o­ra­tion pre­de­ces­sors such as Kim MacCon­nel and Jes­sica Stock­holder.

Or per­haps it’s more ac­cu­rate to say that the edgy rest­less­ness comes from force­fully squeez­ing out es-

tab­lished con­ven­tions and sim­ply oc­cu­py­ing the artis­tic ter­ri­tory as she sees fit. Af­ter all, the big­gest, most en­er­getic ab­stract paint­ing in the show — al­most 9 feet of raw can­vas flooded with scrib­bles, swirls and slathered patches of red, or­ange, yel­low and blue acrylic and oil pas­tel — is ti­tled “For Marc.” Tacked to a stretcher bar at the side is a tag that iden­ti­fies Marc Maron, the po­lit­i­cally wicked al­ter­na­tive co­me­dian.

No won­der Cain ti­tled her show “Bow Down,” with its re­gal com­mand. Nod­ding to Bey­oncé’s con­tro­ver­sial pop-fem­i­nist an­them of that name greets another realm of fan­girl en­thu­si­asm.

“Bow Down” is also the ti­tle of the show’s ar­chi­tec­turally scaled ex­trav­a­ganza, an im­pro­vi­sa­tional paint­ing made on site and stretch­ing 47 feet — the en­tire length of one room. Like Cain’s show­steal­ing, site-spe­cific win­dow mu­ral in “Paint­ing in Place,” a scruffy 2013 group ex­hi­bi­tion, it as­sem­bles a host of painterly riffs, shim­mies and shakes.

Sprayed, brushed, f lung, drib­bled, pud­dled, taped, stained, poured, ges­tu­ral, geo­met­ric, or­ganic and more, with some of it on in­de­pen­dent sur­faces she at­tached to the wall, the paint­ing is a vir­tual lex­i­con of mod­ern ab­strac­tion. (A draped clus­ter of dried roses even of­fers a vale­dic­tion.) Gaily cross­ing the main wall’s defin­ing edges on all four sides, it pushes the mu­ral tra­di­tion into three di­men­sions.

As a fi­nal f lour­ish, Cain painted an off-kil­ter grid of big, dark-gray polka dots over ev­ery­thing. Who knew that see­ing spots be­fore your eyes could be so pleas­antly in­vig­o­rat­ing? Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Cul­ver City, (310) 837-0191, through July 11. Closed Sun­day and Mon­day. www.hon­or­

Videos mesh chaos, mor­tal­ity

Three short, sin­gle-chan­nel videos, the long­est just un­der three min­utes in du­ra­tion, an­chor a show of nine large draw­ings by New York­based artist Chloe Piene at Su­sanne Veil­met­ter Los An­ge­les Projects.

The draw­ings are all ren­dered in clipped, spindly, ag­i­tated lines that loosely de­scribe frag­mented, lux­u­ri­ously re­clin­ing fe­male nudes, all shat­tered in the amor­phous space of large sheets of pa­per. Rem­i­nis­cent of De Koon­ing’s choppy, sea­side clam-dig­gers, they’re ti­tled more ag­gres­sively, with vari­a­tions on the word “Valkyrie.”

Those are the women in Norse mythol­ogy who de­cide which sol­diers in a bat­tle will live or die. Piene’s three short videos in­stalled in an ad­ja­cent room are clipped from grim, of­ten bru­tal found-footage shot with body cam­eras by Amer­i­can sol­diers fight­ing in Iraq.

The first is a loop show­ing a ma­chine gun jerk­ily be­ing po­si­tioned in the dirt, ac- com­panied by scrap­ing sounds. It’s like a me­tal­lic pray­ing man­tis, ready­ing it­self to pounce.

The sec­ond is a jumpy view of bleak, scrubby land­scape. Soon it’s ac­com­pa­nied by the pop-pop-pop of gun­fire. The screen goes blank as anx­ious shouts of “Medic!” re­peat for what seems like an eter­nity, punc­tu­ated by des­per­ate swear­ing.

Next come a few mo­ments of a cam­era-view fac­ing down, trav­el­ing across dusty ground. The screen goes blank again. Chaos erupts: troops hol­ler­ing, in­co­her­ent or­ders barked. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions are in­ter­rupted, just as they are in Piene’s video.

In a sense, like Piene’s “Valkyrie” the videos are draw­ings too, with the artist’s sharp ed­its tak­ing the place of brisk de­lin­eations in char­coal on pa­per. What re­mains un­seen — the empty space — is as im­por­tant as the frag­ments of im­agery that ap­pear on the screen.

De­spite their brevity, “Gun 01,” “Shrap­nel” and “I’m Hit” are ex­haust­ing to watch. Partly that’s be­cause the in­for­ma­tion that is with­held makes the brief im­ages more in­tense. And partly it’s a re­sult of be­ing doc­u­men­tary: The torn f lesh is un­seen but real, and a viewer’s own body clenches.

Tur­moil meshes with mor­tal­ity. You peer into video im­agery that is rear-pro­jected onto a rec­tan­gu­lar, roughly lap­top-size screen f lush with the sur­face of the gallery wall. Sound comes from four sim­i­larly ar­rayed speak­ers. A Min­i­mal­ist com­po­si­tion, its power to dis­turb is any­thing but slight.

Also at Viel­met­ter, a dozen re­cent paint­ings by New York artist El­iz­a­beth Neel show how process has been mov­ing into the fore­ground of her work in re­cent years. It has been there in pre­vi­ous paint­ings, but its promi­nence here is a provoca­tive turn for an artist whose ab­strac­tions have di­rect ties to vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence out­side the can­vas.

In ad­di­tion to us­ing con­ven­tional tools like a brush or tech­niques like pour­ing, Neel fre­quently folds a por­tion of her can­vas while thick patches of paint are still fresh. The re­sult is a Rorschach-style blot. It can be biomor­phic, but of­ten it’s dis­con­cert­ingly geo­met­ric.

The or­ganic qual­ity of a typ­i­cal Rorschach inkblot is what al­lows fluid psy­cho­log­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion to open up. Ge­om­e­try blocks that. When the blot is a rec­tan­gle with crisp edges and a mot­tled skin, the brain tends to­ward self-con­scious anal­y­sis rather than free as­so­ci­a­tion. The paint­ing ric­o­chets con­cep­tu­ally be­tween chance and or­der, nat­u­ral and con­trived, mimetic and not.

A lovely paint­ing such as “Black’s Pond (Eat­ing Lan­guages),” a hor­i­zon­tal can­vas more than 6 feet high and nearly 12 feet wide, is ex­em­plary. With­out at­tempt­ing de­pic­tion, it be­gins to feel like a land­scape equiv­a­lent — a pro­duc­tive ter­ri­tory of com­posted ma­te­rial care­fully gath­ered from worlds both nat­u­ral and artis­tic.

Pas­sages in Neel’s lively ab­strac­tions in­voke strate­gies em­ployed by artists as di­verse as He­len Franken­thaler, Bar­nett New­man, Ed Moses and Al­bert Oehlen. The work is not push­ing against paint­ing ’s bound­aries, cre­at­ing some­thing star­tlingly new, but it is ac­com­plished. Su­sanne Viel­met­ter Los An­ge­les Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Cul­ver City, (310) 837-2117, through July 3. Closed Sun­day and Mon­day. www.viel­met­

Honor Fraser Galler y

A DE­TAIL of Sarah Cain’s “Bow Down” in­stal­la­tion, which takes up the en­tire length of one room.

Su­sanne Viel­met­ter Los An­ge­les Projects

“GUN 01” is a short video that Chloe Piene clipped from body-cam­era footage by U.S. sol­diers in Iraq.

Su­sanne Viel­met­ter Los An­ge­les Projects

EL­IZ­A­BETH NEEL’S “Blacks Pond (Eat­ing Lan­guages)” takes on a Rorschach-like feel.

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