- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

When two Los Angeles artists and their work show up on the local art scene, it should be a cause for rejoicing, as with the two exhibits at the Numark Gallery, Adam Ross’ pencil drawings shown “In Between Places” and Carter Potter’s film strip paintings in “We Cure Everything.”

Los Angeles has one of the liveliest art scenes in the nation with the quality and energy of its artists and is ranked in importance as second only to New York.

Yet L.A. art has a curious, undeserved reputation in Washington, whose art and artists usually are regarded as conservative. As the land of sex and sunshine, movie beauties and pop culture, the thinking here is, Los Angeles and its art can’t possibly be taken seriously.

These exhibitions of two very different, but fine, L.A. artists should disabuse Washingtonians of that ridiculous notion.

Carter Potter, 43, began as a painter, and his joyous, brilliantly hued constructions of film strips express the California city’s light and space as well as its movie-industry base. The artist became attracted to the material while working in Hollywood studios and began trundling away discarded tangles of film from the cutting-room floor for his artwork.

Adam Ross, 42, also looks to Los Angeles’ light and spatial expanses but creates futuristic, threatening city landscapes. Numark Gallery Director Cheryl Numark says science fiction and technology influence Mr. Ross. However, there also could be the anguish voiced in “The Waste Land” by poet T.S. Eliot, who decried modern Europe’s spiritual bankruptcy as early as 1922.

Could Mr. Ross be voicing similar doubts?

As visitors enter the main gallery, Mr. Potter’s shiny, often huge, Dionysian “paintings” may initially draw them, though Mr. Ross’ more cerebral meditations make extraordinary statements. Even though drawn on paper on smaller formats and shown in the gallery’s side exhibition space, they make a major statement about the demise of our spiritual concerns.

All five of his drawings are diptychs, or two-part pictures. Together they measure 23-by-58 inches and contain landscapes divided into surreal, techno images on the right coupled with organic ones at left.

The meticulously rendered scenes are desolate. Images are devoid of human beings. Nothing moves. Human life is implied only by dying forms of nature such as barren trees and transmitters or conduits carrying life forces such as air, water and electricity.

For example, consider “In Between Places 5.” (The artist titles each diptych “In Between Places” and numbers them.) It and the other drawings often show the intensely spare expressiveness of Rembrandt’s early drawings.

Mr. Ross smoothly pencils a leafless tree in the organic left section of “5” that reaches toward the futuristic, techno landscape space at right, where stacks of Constantin Brancusi-like ovals reach upward. There, tiny floating wisps of lines reach out from what could be a Frisbee rolled on its side. This is the artist’s quintessential desolate landscape, with only the tree and transmitter giving hints of life.

Look, also, at the very low horizon line, indicated by tensile lines drawn at the very front of the left section and stretched to the right. Mr. Ross even takes the lines below the lower edge, then brings them up again in the next section, basically leaving the foreground and background as empty spaces.

These dramatic cutoffs and continuations carry the narrative quality of the drawings and imply that some kind of incorporeal being could be moving between the segments and be, as the exhibit’s title reads, “In Between Places.”

Mr. Ross varies these components only slightly in Nos. 1 through 4. In 1, the artist introduces a dirigiblelike form that’s repeated in 4. Some of his most beautiful drawing appears in the open, organic forms of 2 and in what appear as twigs sprouting from a leafless tree in 3.

The artist uses a variety of pencils to create pinpoint lines — very small marks such as dashes, dots, points and flecks — combining them with stenciled curved lines and deep blacks.

Mr. Potter’s work seems very different from Mr. Ross’, although there are similarities. Both use light: Mr. Ross in the whiteness of the paper support, Mr. Potter in the light and color reflections within his constructions.

Also, the two work with strongly configured geometries in building their compositions.

At first, the shine and color of film strips attracted Mr. Potter. His initial paintings consisted of yards of found movie stock stretched around wooden frames in horizontal bands. They were quite small and looked like stained-glass windows. Now he orders reels of canceled film stock to obtain just the colors and compositions he wants.

Mr. Potter uses both positive and negative Imax 77 mm film. In his largest, most remarkable, works, “We Cure Everything # 5 (Zebra)” and “We Cure Everything # 3 (Lion King),” the artist uses brilliantly colored positive film. He made both constructions from discarded “Lion King” film stock.

The artist told Miss Numark that his zany “We Cure Everything” titles come from an herbalist’s sign near his studio.

Seen from a distance, “Zebra” looks like an abstract, shimmering combination of brilliant reds and purples. On closer viewing, it’s easier to see the tiny, jewellike figures and animals, all set on horizontal rows, from the musical’s story. The work is at once allover patterned and minutely detailed through intense hues that can’t be matched in oil pigments or watercolors.

Mr. Potter’s images are very different when he uses negative film. A large, squarish work such as “Dupe Neg #3,” which is mounted next to “Zebra” and filled with tonalities of glorious yellows, is more subtle and abstract.

The gallery mounted seven smaller, 14-by-14-inch variations on his “We Cure Everything” theme and titles on a separate wall. By shrinking the size, the artist pulls viewers closer to the works. Most are geometrically patterned, but others, including “Purple Penguin,” are downright funny.

The two exhibitions prove that Washingtonians need not travel to Los Angeles to see good L.A. art. Two of its best midcareer artists are showing right here.

WHAT: “In Between Places” and “We Cure Everything”

WHERE: Numark Gallery, 625-27 E St. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through Feb. 21

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/628-3810

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