Rikki Niehaus, Simon Berson and Martin Bruinsma at Lois Lambert Gallery

Rikki Niehaus; Swedish Landscapes at Lois Lambert Gallery. Photo credit: Jenny Begun

Rikki Niehaus; Swedish Landscapes, Simon Berson; Brain Candy, and Martin Bruinsma; Noir

at Lois Lambert Gallery

Through September 1

By Jenny Begun

As you walk into Lois Lambert Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, you lock eyes with a man laying uncomfortably on a new couch wearing a nice gray suit. His eyes don’t convey happiness of being home after a long work day. Instead they are intensely blank. That’s when you may notice that he is surrounded by items carrying IKEA store price tags.

Los Angeles based artist Rikki Niehaus is a figurative painter and a brilliant portraitist. The first room in the gallery’s three-solo-show exhibition is dedicated to her ongoing series “Swedish Landscapes.” Colorful and detailed, they swiftly and easily transport viewers through space into a very familiar landscapes of the Swedish mega-retailer. Indeed, Niehaus painted these from the photographs she’s taken at the 22-acre IKEA store in Burbank.

All of her oil-on-canvas paintings depict the same man in the same gray suit posing in different perfectly staged homely IKEA settings. For so many of us, mentioning of this brand name brings to mind happy associations. It is always fun to spend several hours meandering though the huge labyrinth of picture-perfect rooms, playing around like a child in a toy store. Niehaus’ paintings fill the room with inexpressible pathos. Strangely subtle and almost imperceptible, it is communicated through the figure, which is central and so powerful. It is remarkable, how well Niehaus uses her skills as a portraitist to deliver her criticism of our consumerist culture.

Martin Bruinsma; Noir at Lois Lambert Gallery. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

As we continue forward and walk around a wall partition into the next exhibition space, Martin Bruinsma changes the mood to dark and mysterious in his “Noir” series. There are objects and scenes set in “places that are of no visual interest in daylight, but take on an aura of mystery and depth at night.” According to Bruinsma, it’s this subject matter that he finds tantalizing.

A trained artist, he also studied psychobiology, and masterfully uses his skills to evoke a titillating expectation of danger by creating a moment in time suspended in the night. Looking at a car parked on a dark street in “Big Daddy” or a lonely figure in the “Threshold” that is standing in the beam lights of an invisible car dissolved in the surrounding darkness, one gets a feeling of witnessing a crime scene in the moment right before. Another acrylic on canvas, “Descent,” presents a lightless staircase and a moving male figure – but only his hands and the part of the body from the abdomen to his knees, where the crotch becomes the focal point. Tension and anticipation of something violent are seeping through the folds of his suit.

The gallery’s press release states that “in ‘Noir’, Bruinsma explores expressions of masculinity and power.” A very potent example of artist’s storytelling is visible in “Alhambra,” a painting set, in contrast to the other works on view, in daylight; however, seemingly, and very fittingly, in the darkness of the human nature. We are watching the unfolding scene in the concrete bedding of Los Angeles river between two bridges, one of which we only infer by the shadow in which stands a man looking at a receding figure of a woman in a bright red dress victoriously walking way along the narrow stream of the river. His brooding posture sparks a fear of what yet to come sending chills down the spine.

“Los Angeles is the backdrop of most of my paintings, though I’ve also incorporated images from my years in New York. Each city has its own unique places,” says the artist. And these uniqueness contributes to creating the atmosphere in which Bruinsma so aptly sets his narratives. In “Jack of Hearts,” a lonely spotlight hits the face of man behind the metal gates of the elevator doors, very common in the older iconic structures in Los Angeles, like the Bradbury Building. His expression is almost of renunciation. Is he a failed actor or a tired mobster? Another tense scene in the “Fire Starters” – two men lock hands, one lighting a cigarette for the other – is redolent of some shady dealings among the “wolves of the Wall Street.”

Simon Berson at Lois Lambert Gallery. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

To change the mood one more time, the exhibition moves to a small room presenting new drawing and collages by Simon Berson in a show titled “Brain Candy.” Berson, who calls his style Industrial Surrealism, is assembling paper collages to explore the contents of “the inner landscapes.” Berson is a trained sculptor and has created a large number of intricately woven metal pieces out of recycled materials, including bed springs and fence wire. He also has done technical writing, illustration and photography.

Knowing his background, his colorful assemblages make perfect sense. He is sculpting surreal forms using images of machinery (glass, metal, and plastic parts taken from technical magazines) and weaving them with his own colored-pencil drawings of somethings more warm and organic. Contrasting these elements on so many levels – color, texture, form, origin, nature – the artist creates an improvised environment to contemplate the foods that feed the brain. According to the artist, “Unlike the highly controlled wire sculpture, [the paintings and drawings] are improvisations that are meant to coax out some underlying reality.”

Overall, the exhibition leaves a feeling of intellectual and visual satisfaction. It is also entertaining, especially considering such a splendid variety of topics addressed by the three artists and the ways they chose to communicate them. Humor, visual dynamism, and many references to film, art history and technology will connect with many in the audience.

Lois Lambert Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave E3
Santa Monica CA 90404
Tuesday – Friday: 10am – 6pm
Saturday: 11am – 6pm
Sunday: By Appointment


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