Betzi Stein at TAG Gallery

Betzi Stein, Art World Friends and Strangers, Photo courtesy of the artist and TAG Gallery.

Betzi Stein: Art World Friends and Strangers Come Together

Written by Genie Davis
Betzi Stein’s solo exhibition at TAG Gallery, Art World Friends and Strangers is a tour de force of the human spirit. Vibrant colors, realistic and beautifully alive figurative work, along with layers of feeling, are poured into these works of epic portraiture.

Whether creating a full-body self-portrait of “Life Size Me” or a three-panel triptych titular piece encompassing dozens of people, there is a palpable joy to this work that resonates through each painting directly to the viewer.

Based primarily on actual, individual photographs she’s taken of her subjects, or compilations of photographs, Stein creates a rich panoply of human emotion in her acrylic on canvas works. Most of her depictions of herself and the Los Angeles art community are exuberant, such as three friends standing close together in “Art Ladies (Three Very Accomplished Artists of a Certain Age.” The women are dressed for an opening, the center figure clad in a deep gold sweater, while the artist on the viewer’s left, caught in mid-conversation, wears an outsize necklace and rings. To the right, the smiling artist sports a bright aqua purse, another large necklace, and a most radiant smile. The cascading wild beauty of artist April Bey’s hair is on full-leonine display in “April’s Hair;” Stein herself beams next to Ai Weiwei in a depiction of a photo taken by Weiwei in “Assembly Line Selfie.”

Happiness is a key element of each of her “art friends” paintings. The three, 36 x 48 panels of the triptych “Art World Friends and Strangers” are each packed with it. A group of three, captured from behind, arms linked, pose for photos taken by another friend; a photographic artist leans forward to view an image on a phone taken by another duo. Groups of four, including Stein, beam for a selfie. A beautiful young woman in ripped jeans, halter top and art show lanyard looks off to the side, contemplating. Wearing a museum-admission tag, another woman looks down at her phone; a man crouches down to view a low-hung circular image; a woman adjusts her glasses to better view an artwork; and wearing a dangling earring, an artist engages with another’s work in a superb, moving profile. A sweet surprise for me: there I am taking a photo of someone’s work (something I do quite a bit). There are many patterns and prints in bright fabric on the figures; vividly colorful artworks behind them. Knowing many of the people on the three panels adds to the fun on a personal level, but the painting is a vastly rewarding experience for absolutely anyone viewing it. If a work can truly embody the human spirit, this is it. For those who don’t recognize the individuals depicted in the vast painting, and want to do so, or simply as a point of interest as to the individual photographs Stein compiled to create the work, there is also a “Quarter Size Mock Up for Triptych with IDs” in black and white opposite the piece itself.

Stein herself says “I love looking at people intently—the color and detail of facial expression, dress, posture—how they present themselves to the world is what I find inspiring, and often, humorous…to me, people looking at art are just as captivating as the art they come to see.”

Among the most humorous are the “strangers” portion of the exhibition. This includes a man texting on a bench outdoors in front of an art gallery, “Reflexting.” The work beautifully includes the man’s reflection in a car door, and a reflection of one of the car’s inhabitants in the sideview mirror. “Oblivious” features two almost-identical looking gallerists busy working on their laptops, paying no attention to their surroundings or gallery attendees; and “Woman in Front of My Painting,” gives us the profile of a woman standing in front of the image but looking beyond it rather than at it.  

All 15 works add up to a truly virtuoso viewing experience.

Also on exhibit at TAG in smaller solo shows: Recyclables, the vivid gouache and water color on handmade paper abstracts of Arlene Weinstock; Liliana D’Ambrosio’s acrylic collages on canvas, Intertwining of Ideas; and Horizons, Fielden Harper’s figurative, but geometric and architectural Los Angeles landscapes.

TAG is located at 5458 Wilshire Blvd. in mid-city Los Angeles, and open 1 – 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through December 11th.

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