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Tribute to James Doolin (1932-2002)
Malick Sidibe at Patrick Painter, Inc.
Meg Cranston at Rosamund Felsen Gallery

For the rest of the world, the image of our city of angels is constructed around the visual mythology invented by Hollywood. But for those lucky people who are familiar with the art of James Doolin, his images of Los Angeles reveal an unglamorous, but nevertheless poetic aspect of this city that no other artist has depicted with such conviction- And with such realism, if we are still allowed to use this much maligned word in its most positive definition.

It is sad to learn that this gifted painter recently died at the age of seventy. I had the pleasure of knowing him and liked very much both his art and the man himself, with whom, once, I had the chance to collaborate on a public art commission. James took his assignment to paint a large mural depicting the park along Ocean Blvd. in Santa Monica with uttermost seriousness. He made dozens, if not hundreds, of sketches of the park and strollers. He even knocked on the doors of the people who lived across from the park to ask permission to climb on their roofs or to step onto their balconies so that he could see the park from yet another angle. It took him almost a year to condense all of his sketches and photographs into one beautiful painting which, fifteen years later, continues to grace the lobby of one of the buildings on Wilshire Blvd. If David Hockney, in his art emphasized the hedonistic aspect of life in L.A., James Doolin embraced all of the city, from the oceanside to the less than glamorous intersections and alleys of downtown. With a remarkable eye for realistic detail, the artist fused the minutia of everyday life with a totally original sense of color, the poetic soul of his art. I can truly say that knowledge of James Doolin's art helped me to understand and love this city the way I do. Let's hope that one of our museums will do us a favor by organizing a retrospective of his art.

For those who remember the intriguing recent exhibition at the Hammer Museum of West African photographers Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe, here is another chance to learn more about the art of Malick Sidibe, the younger of the two. At the Patrick Painter gallery at Bergamot Station there are a few dozen black and white images, mostly made in the 1960s when Mali, a former French colony, gained its independence. In this exhibition, curated by the actor Matt Dillon, Malick Sidibe steps out from the long shadow cast by the art of the better-known Seydou Keita. Sidibe's portraits of the burgeoning middle class are less iconic and more matter-of-fact depictions of men and women enjoying their everyday life, sporting new European-style fashions, dancing their hearts out to the sounds of Afro-Cuban music.

In nearby Rosamund Felsen Gallery, there is an amusing installation by Los Angeles-based artist Meg Cranston, occupying two rooms but completely dominating the main gallery space with a gigantic papier-mache mountain reaching all the way to the thirty feet high ceiling. The mountain is at once imposing and flimsy, its semi-translucent skin made out of glued pages of newspaper. The headlines can still be read, if one chooses to do that. Inspired by the song lyrics "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill," Meg Cranston created a reality that will function, to paraphrase her statement, if you believe in it. I was seduced to believe in it.


For more information:

James Doolin
"Sunday in the Park", his mural depicting the park along Ocean Blvd., can be seen in the lobby of the building at 11766 Wilshire Blvd. in Brentwood. Four of his large murals can be seen at the new downtown headquarters of the MTA. A memorial is being planned for September.
For more information, contact:
Koplin Gallery
(310) 657-9843.

Malick Sidibe
Through August 24
Patrick Painter Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 264-5988

Meg Cranston
Through September 7
Rosamund Felsen Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 828-8488

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