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The Unbearable Beauty of Being

Here is an exhibition for you that would probably make even Sweeney Todd very, very happy. I can almost see the demon barber licking his lips at the sight of all those body parts strewn around the cavernous space: disembodied torsos, legs, arms, heads, and something else---could it be lungs or a heart or maybe even part of the digestive tract? Yikes--or, hmm, yummy, depending on your mood and inclinations.

The Peter Shelton exhibition at the L.A. Louver Gallery is a head spinning presentation of the work by this L.A.-based, well-known and widely exhibited sculptor. For more than two decades, he has been creating these bodily shapes---almost abstract but, at the same time, strangely realistic---and, ultimately, uniquely his. Often, the artist casts his sculptures in bronze. But on this occasion, we are presented with nearly two hundred translucent fiberglass shapes, attached to the walls of the gallery from floor to ceiling, as a kind of mad scientist catalogue in the study of the human anatomy. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the L.A. Louver Gallery mounted this witty exhibition, previously shown in Dublin at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. You definitely don't want to miss this one.

With your appetite whetted for all things human, the next logical step is to travel to mid-Wilshire to the ACME Gallery, for the remarkable exhibition of paintings by another Angelino artist, John Sonsini. For many years, the subject of his painting has been a single, nude male figure, painted with an intensity, bordering on obsession. One could feel and almost hear the hard work that went into producing those early, heavily encrusted paintings.

A few years ago things dramatically changed. The palette and the mood lightened, while the brush strokes got wider and wilder, dancing their giddy waltz across the canvas. There is a vivid contrast between the flamboyant, assured handling of the medium and the seemingly common subjects of John Sonsini's paintings: daily laborers, who he finds on the street corners in downtown L.A., where they gather hoping for work. The artist hires them for several days to pose for him, and the resulting single or group portraits are nothing short of monumental, both in size and in spirit. Wearing heavy boots with baggy pants and simple shirts, these young Latino men do not possess the smoky sensuality and attractiveness of Javier Bardem or Benicio del Toro. What they have in abundance is a quiet sense of dignity, and an equally strong sense of masculinity. They stare at you---not in defiance, but in a rarely observed, relaxed moment of just simple, honest being---with not a trace of machismo posturing in sight. There is something grand, almost operatic and undeniably seductive in the way John Sonsini honors these young, migrant workers, who earlier generations of American writers used to refer to as "the salt of the earth."

Peter Shelton: Godpipes
Through February 11
LA Louver Gallery
45 N. Venice Blvd
Venice
310-822-4955

John Sonsini: New PaintingsThrough February 4
ACME Gallery
6150 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles
323-857-5942

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