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"Art is Love is God" has long been a mantra for George Herms, now 79, an original Beat artist of the ‘50s, running mate to artist Wallace Berman, poet, hipster, lover of jazz and women, operating at edges of the contemporary art world though always regarded as essential to its beating heart.
Despite his talent -- he has received numerous grants and awards -- Herms has remained something of the perpetual bridesmaid, never the bride, never the one to score the big bucks yet never bitter, just a remarkably generous and amusing soul. For decades, he has found beauty in cast-offs, the rusted, deteriorated fragments of furniture, machinery, books, lumber. His collages have been detailed, refined and small in scale. Two new shows in West Hollywood, at Louis Stern Fine Arts and at OHWOW Gallery, offer breathtaking proof that old dogs can learn new tricks and refine some of their old ones.
The most surprising is Emergio at OHWOW, on view through October 26, where the walls are hung with big, bright collages that seem at first to be a complete contrast to his small, highly refined pieces. The clippings from women's fashion magazines -- flowers, jewelry, butterfly wings -- are enlarged to six feet and fitted together by pattern and color to obviate their source material. They are dynamic and completely unexpected as the oval repetitions of nature and culture collide and cuddle. As context, the show includes a number of Herms' earlier sculptures as well as Scratch (2013), a towering nine foot tall fantasy composed of a pair of old chairs, one curvy and white, the other rusted metal and perforated with holes, draped in melted plastic CD's, bits of bottles and oddments.
George Herms: On and Off the Wall is a rough survey, beginning with Geo Geo Graphic from 1964 to work from the present. In terms of newest work, his interest in the melted CD's is manifest here as various hanging sculptures from 2012 called Swarm. The clusters of glistening, twisted plastic discs are bound together like the hives of alien creatures yet they shimmer with reflected light like chandeliers. Inexplicable Urge (2012) incorporates a crumpled metallic high-heel and bits of gold jewelry on a scrap-wood armature while Joe Goode Time (2009) is just that, part of watch burned in the fire that destroyed most of that artist's studio.
Many of the works in the show are stamped with the capital letters L-O-V-E on the four corners. Herms stays true to himself even as he pushes into future possibilities. Oh George, we hardly knew ye. For more information, go to oh-wow.com or louissternfinearts.com.
And on the subject of assemblage, there is a young artist, Brenna Youngblood, who has been incorporating signs and elements of domestic life into her sculptures or paintings for some time though she did her MFA in photography at UCLA with James Welling, whose retrospective is opening this weekend at the Hammer.
In Activision, on view through October 26 at Honor Fraser Gallery in Culver City, Youngblood scaled back the assemblage and pumped up the atmosphere. These large scale paintings betray only the slightest connection to the tangible or legible but that simplicity grants significance to each such gesture. In the rear gallery, 10:56 (2013) is composed of pale shades of white on an eight by six foot panel that includes an obscured clock face and an electrical outlet conjuring domestic arrangements but also the passing of time. In the front gallery, a triptych, Trifecta (2013) features a vertical center panel of charcoal shades flanked by panels of rosy pastels. Revolver (2013), a sculpture of four revolving doors connects and divides the two rooms, an assemblage that brings about thoughts of commerce and the flow of people entering and leaving a building, expectant and rushed, as we so often are. For more information, go to honorfraser.com.
Banner image: George Herms, Inexplicable Urge, 2012; Mixed media, 24 x 28 x 12 inches; 61 x 71.1 x 30.5 centimeters. Courtesy Louis Stern Fine Arts