Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brooklyn-based artist Beau Chamberlain sticks to a familiar recipe for contemporary abstract painting. In the nine pieces that make up This Is Forever, his current show at Project 4, delicate brushstrokes and marbled patches of color wander across flat monochromatic backgrounds. Biomorphs looking like exotic horticultural specimens, glistening internal organs, and strange many-legged bugs all float together in an indeterminate space.

Though this compositional strategy is by now more than a little stale--really, how many more painters do we need spreading tangles of semi-abstract marks over flat backdrops?--Chamberlain's undeniably a meticulous craftsman. Over the satin-smooth ground of each panel, he applies countless tiny dots of thin acrylic paint--giving each piece a sort of enamelled perfection. His palette is saturated but beautifully balanced. If you're looking for unapologetially decorative stuff done right, this is it.

For Chamberlain, though, bigger is definitely not better. The least convincing piece here is Everybody Broke Me Up, an 11' X 13' foot site specific monster applied directly to the wall's surface. The piece falls flat, looking a bit like a mural in a child's nursery gone awry. No, Chamberlain's at his best when he's thinking like a miniaturist, making small precious things.

D.C. artist D. Billy's show at Transformer, Sink Sank Sunk, is a near-perfect match between venue and artist. Like so much of the 2-D art and installation that ends up at the alt-non-profit venue, Billy's work is small in scale, occasionally rough around the edges, and reveals a private obsession with junk culture and images from childhood.

The best part of Billy's work is his off-beat sense of humor. It's hard not to love an image of a little white bunny rabbit being gently propelled into the air by a cartoon explosion--one that inexplicably reads, "TYPHOON!"

In Billy's world, loud unlikely sounds are constantly being emitted by bits of black and white clip art--including cartoonish drawings of furniture, animals, and dancing teeth.

In addition to his collages, Billy also shoots photographs of playful interventions in the physical world around him: In Crackle (Speaker) (2007), the word "Crackle" appears to emanate from an actual loudspeaker jutting out of a window--Billy has rendered the text on the wall using jagged strips of yellow tape.

The only difficulty with this work is what to do with it. It's irreverent without ever being really subversive; it's design-oriented and recalls classic Pop art, but without ever being handsome enough to be thought of as a luxury commodity, either.

Billy has a winning sense of humor and a distinctive graphic sensibility, but to me, he seems to stop short of committing to making either an argument or an object. Still, the irreverent fun of Sink Sank Sunk certainly offers a nice counterpoint to the perfected confections on view in This is Forever.

Next: Lori Nix at Randall Scott; Kahn and Selesnick at Irvine.

Pictured: You First, Beau Chamberlain, acrylic on panel, 16" X 16", 2007; Aaaagh, D. Billy, latex, graphite, china marker, tape, rubber stamping, and collage on panel, 8" x 8", 2007


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