Much art is devoted to recording and admiring the Los Angeles landscape; sunsets over the Pacific, jungles of palm trees and magenta bougainvillea. It is another landscape, however, that often fascinates artists and photographers: The ambiguous areas of urban ruin, the remnants of lost structures amidst the bracken of unglamorous overgrowth. This latter is recorded by Francesca Gabbiani in her wryly titled show, Vague Terrains/Urban F**kups at Gavlak Gallery.
Francesca Gabbiani. Lookout, 2016-2017. Ink, gouache and colored paper on paper. 72 x 105 in (182.9 x 266.7 cm). FG1018. Courtesy of Gavlak Gallery.
Though Gabbiani begins by taking photographs of such ubiquitous but overlooked sites, her method of realization is meticulous and fascinating. She draws and paints an almost schematic rendering on paper but adds details in the tiniest and most exquisite cut-outs of colored paper.
Detailing on Overlook (Belmont Tunnel). Photo credit: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp.
For example, The Unresolved Story (2016-2017), a vertical sheet of paper about nine feet tall and six feet wide, has a crumbling stairway to nowhere at its center. A broken wall at the top opens to a stormy dark sky of rough blue brush stokes. The concrete construction is rendered in black ink or gouache but shadows and remnants of old paint on the stairs are suggested by thin layers of cut paper in a dozen shades of blue or gray.
Francesca Gabbiani, The Unresolved Story, 2016-2017 Ink, gouache and colored paper on paper. 105 x 72 in (266.7 x 182.9 cm). FG1021. Courtesy of Gavlak Gallery.
In other works in the show, chaotic piles of detritus or branches of dried vines in black and white sparkle with the occasional pop of tiny colored leaves with tiny veins delineated by multi-hued papers cut with surgical precision. The process appears devotional and the lavish attention to detail seems out of proportion to the bleak subjects of her interest.
Francesca Gabbiani. One Eyed Jack, 2016-2017. Ink, gouache and colored paper on paper. 72 x 105 in (182.9 x 266.7 cm). FG1020. Courtesy of Gavlak Gallery.
In this way, they recall the history of conceptually oriented topographic photography in Southern California, unprepossessing scenes of commercial development and suburban sprawl. Gabbiani finds merit, maybe suggestions, in these undefined and unappreciated scenes but her context is today, not the droll neutrality of the 1970s.
Francesca Gabbiani Overlook (Belmont Tunnel), 2016-2017 .Ink, gouache and colored paper on paper. 72 x 105 in (182.9 x 266.7 cm) FG1019. Courtesy of Gavlak Gallery.
Gabbiani, who lives in L.A. and has an MFA from UCLA, has long worked with this highly personal technique of composition but never letting it entirely define or restrict her imagination. An image has to succeed on its own terms, not as a curiosity, whether the interior of a decorated room, the floral frames of faceless people or vague terrains.These latest pictures are more confrontational for bringing our attention to abandoned, unloved, corners of a city where only the hardiest plants survive.
It is on view to May 26.