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Brenna Youngblood acknowledges the legacy of assemblage — from Robert Rauschenberg to Betye Saar and beyond — but she won't be buried by it. There are hints, scraps, evocations of the world operating outside the studio but her allegiance is to making something new out of something old. Youngblood has an MFA from UCLA where she studied photography with James Welling and Catherine Opie so the rigors of critical theory and questions about representation have come into play. Most recently, she has integrated her own history with contemporary art history, painting large abstract panels with elements of collage: highly sophisticated works that hold onto their intimate roots.

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"Blade Runner: Painter of Light," 2014
Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 60 inch
Courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles

A modest but significant exhibition organized by Rebecca McGrew is on view at the Pomona College Museum of Art through May 17. At first glance, they could be riffs on monochome painting, except that the atmospheric conditions relate to rust, chrome, smog and asphalt. In murky tones, the 72 by 60 inch canvases are painted over sheets of papers, bits of this and that, bringing about an underlying texture that offers different impressions according to your physical relationship to each piece. From a distance, Blade Runner: Painter of Light (2014) is painted in varying tones of gray with daubs of color and it appears to have a large gray bandage stuck to its murky surface. At close range, this turns out to be a tiny jigsaw puzzle of a lighthouse by the deceased painter Thomas Kinkade. This fragment of art by the epitome of middle class white suburban taste superimposed upon a foggy monochrome by a young black woman embodies the aesthetic collisions that are so rewarding in her work. And if you don't know that the puzzle is by Thomas Kinkade or that Youngblood is black, you can see a formalist dialogue in paint that is equally rewarding.

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"Thank You," 2014
Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 60 inch
Courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles

There is little of the hectoring message mongering, which allows poetic and individual interpretations to take precedence. Thank You (2014) is a monochrome of metallic silver paint with the textured curved form of a cloud at the top. Dribbles of paint can be read as rain. Falling from the sky, so to speak, is a plastic carrying bag with the printed words "Thank You" and "The Very Best." Youngblood mixes the glum and the unlifting, within the show and within individual works. Women's Health Pack (Drive Buy) (2014) is a fleshy pink panel is divided across the center horizontally so the top half is plastered with reproductions of roses: cheery landscape or advert for feminine hygiene products?

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"Women’s Health Pack" (Drive Buy), 2013
Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 60 inch
Courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles

I happened to see this show after a visit to the Noah Purifoy Art Site in Joshua Tree, which was a revelatory experience. This important artist, who helped establish art programs at Watts Towers, moved to the remote location 15 years before his death in 2004. His sculptures there are assembled from whatever he could scavenge, from discarded toilets and bowling balls to a large-scale homage to the buildings of Frank Gehry. Many of the pieces will be moved to LACMA for his retrospective, Junk Dada, opening in June. So it is an ideal time to take a road trip eastward and see Youngblood and Purifoy in unusually close and welcome proximity. (Added incentives include other shows at the Pomona Museum by Conceptual artist Mirella Bentivoglio and the redoubtable Guerrilla Girls.)

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Noah Purifoy
Photo: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

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Noah Purifoy
Photo: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

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