William Downs: A soft place to lay
Pamela Smith-Hudson: Variations on Mapping
through March 30
E.C. Lina, Los Angeles
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Two simultaneous solo shows offer a pairing that starts off like opposites but actually prompts a shared imperative: look closer. In William Downs’ graphically striking, dense and extremely photogenic works for paper and wall-mural, and also in Pamela Smith-Hudson’s essentially unphotographable works of achromatic minimalist impasto, the angels are in the details.
Downs draws and paints on paper and directly on the wall, creating a fractured continuum which both contains and contextualizes individual elements of its own self-directed universe. Alternating widths of inky black pigment and finer lines articulate eccentric personages and elements of landscape in dissonant rotations of pictorialism and pattern-based abstraction. The gallery-length mural presents a scenic scroll of flattened scale and forced perspective, in which a shifting frieze of single figures and small groups enacting stylized rituals dot the field of a negative-space Rift Valley. It’s a little like Bosch meeting Burning Man, as cell-phone worship, yoga posing, rough rattan desert rafts, volcano-nippled mountain peaks, and inscrutable multiple-timeline vignettes occur across a fractal spread.
Both free within the mural and singled out for framing on the facing wall, small-scale compositions on paper offer resolved single and dual portraits and schematic parcels of scenery. While these contain less broadly narrative information, they wrangle an array of organic nuances in medium, gesture, ambiguity, and express a softer-edged emotional profile. Whereas with the wall work, in which a crisp intentionality feeds an overall complexity and rather anxiously binds itself together with a rawness alike to cave painting, in the deracinated works on paper, cloudiness and pentimenti call out an ethereal pantheon. In both versions of Downs’ rendered voices, imagery exists so as to contain the symbolism required for narrative meaning, but the energetic activation lives at nodes of mark-making, and the range of expressivity is captured in the process rather than results of movements of pen and brush.
Pamela Smith-Hudson’s work in the adjoining room speaks in a warmer if more minimalist voice, but that is far from the full picture. Her off-white works are not technically paintings but rather monotypes on clay panel, but their smooth grounds embellished with topographical bursts, pigment drifts, textural clusters and pock-marked nooks resemble palette-knife impasto as well as masonry plastering. They look abstract, but the titles gives permission for a cartographic reading that leverages economies of scale, getting close enough to the realm of imagery to access the whisper of pictorial experience in which clay, which came from the earth, is demonstrated to still embody its character and capacity for texture.
4480 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90016