Lari Pittman, Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans
Through October 25, 2018
By Lorraine Heitzman
For more than three decades, Lari Pittman has been one of Los Angeles’ greatest talents, his fertile imagination matched only by his daunting work ethic. His early paintings grew out of the Pattern and Decoration movement of the seventies while a student at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) but were distinguished from other P&D work by his humor, nostalgia and graphic iconography. Pittman’s work was ambitious in scale and details, and his paintings immediately garnered attention for their highly stylized imagery of, well, just about everything. The obsessive quality of his work seemed to fetishize the abundance of stimuli in contemporary life, and holding everything together was his prodigious skill as a colorist and craftsman.
Pittman’s current show at Regen Projects, Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans, still retains the clarity and craft we have come to expect from him. In a series of paired paintings, the artist presents twelve large, densely composed canvases of enormous patterns adjacent to small, abstracted portraits of people. The larger works all have names referring to a type of fabric (Brocade, Taffeta, etc.), while the accompanying paintings are named for the different methods of persuasion from Aristotle’s Rhetoric: Pathos, Ethos, Logos and Kairos.
The artist, who has long credited the influence of feminist thought on his development, brings his knowledge of fabrics, crafts, and decoration to the forefront in this show. The significance of his relationship to his subject matter is especially apparent in the textile portraits. That Pittman calls his large paintings portraits is instructive; after spinning us around to disorient us, like in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, he then points the viewer in the correct direction. When the fog dissipates, it becomes clear that these are portraits of our culture rather than a decorative ploy simply meant to dazzle. The patterns are like computer chips with encoded information, some of it more accessible than others.
The textile patterns, brash, and more than a little menacing, relate to their less aggressive human counterparts like examples of cause and effect. Pittman seems to be asking, “Who would be making this pattern and what does it tell us about our humanity?” The humans look put-upon and sullied, the victims of their culture. Their downtrodden characteristics are the result of specific, different trespasses. Together, the human portraits recall the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “ All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” They exemplify different arguments against the crimes of their perpetrators.
Many of the textile portraits incorporate either weapons or tools lifted from a murder mystery: Damask features nooses, Glazed Chintz has daggers, and Cretonne’s repeating pattern has hedge clippers. Often they are so well integrated into colorful repeats that it takes a moment to understand the implied violence. In Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans, a contradiction exists that both serves and hinders the work. Pittman’s hand is so assured that his impressive skills can be distancing from the subjects, his patterns so seductive that they are sometimes barriers to a deeper emotional response. Whether or not you consider this a misdirection or liability, Pittman again delivers a thought provoking, riveting show at Regen Projects and it would be foolish to underestimate him.
6750 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm