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What is the point of making a painting? It seems such a basic question but it is one continually provoked by one of L.A.-based artist, Lari Pittman. Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans, his new exhibition at Regen Projects is both disturbing and delightful for just that reason.


Installation view of Lari Pittman Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Human at Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Brian Forrest, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles 

Centuries of being considered the dominant fine art, painting has been challenged for a century by the advent of photography, video and the advent of the digital age. What is the point of slavishly using a brush and liquid color on canvas or panel? One point is that the best painting can still stop time. Or at least slow it down. It is reported that viewers spend less than thirty seconds looking at any painting in a museum. An artist cannot control the response of the viewer but the best painting can and should be arresting.

Of Columbian heritage and acutely aware of the current political climate, Pittman is considered one of the most influential painters of his generation. With a graduate degree from Cal Arts, he is a distinguished professor in the UCLA art department. He is renowned for his use of motifs drawn from the unconventional sources of decorative arts as well as fine and popular arts.


Lari Pittman. Portrait of a Textile (Brocade) 2018. Cel-vinyl, spray enamel on canvas over wood panel. 81 x 70 x 2 inches (205.7 x 177.8 x 5.1 cm). © Lari Pittman, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles 

It is fair to say that none of these sources is chosen without a significant amount of consideration. Though Pittman has never been afraid of seduction or beauty, his work always has a bit of bite.


Installation view of Lari Pittman Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans at Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Brian Forrest, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles 

In this group of paintings, Pittman, now 66, addresses two themes: portraits and textiles. The former belongs in the canon of art history, the other in the realm of decorative arts. Pittman’s panels of repetitive motifs, fabrics based on baroque, jacquard, or eyelit fabric, incorporate unexpected instruments of violence: axes, hedge-clippers or scythes arranged over backgrounds abundant with flowers and fruits, buildings or birds, all rendered in a highly stylized manner. Others include symbolic elements such as golden keys arrayed diagonally over a grid of archways and thistles in tones of lime green.


Installation view of Lari Pittman Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans at Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Brian Forrest, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles 

Each textile is accompanied by a portrait though the faces are more schematic than realistic. All rectangular in format, the textile paintings are larger than the portraits but in the gallery they hang in relation to one another and are unified by a common color scheme. Each pair is executed in the oddball hues typical of Pittman’s art: lilac, rose, ultramarine blue. With time, each painting reveals layers and layers of discreet meaning. 


Installation view of Lari Pittman Portraits of Textiles & Portraits of Humans at Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Brian Forrest, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles 

In one painting, black shovels arrayed at angles carry the off-white impressions of a narrow, Victorian style buildings with multiple windows and, in one case, topped with a cross. An array of open white flowers bloom across a background of sapphire, emerald and ruby. Titled Portrait of a Textile (Cotton Eyelet with Embroidery) (2018), there is an accompanying portrait of a cadaverous white face impaled by a bent arrow in similar colors. It is titled, Portrait of a Human (Pathos, Ethos, Logos, Kairos #11) 2018.


Lari Pittman. Portrait of a Human (Pathos, Ethos, Logos, Kairos #7) 2018. Cel vinyl and spray paint over linen mounted on wood panel. 28 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches (72.4 x 62.2 x 4.4 cm). © Lari Pittman, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

All of the portraits have the same title though with different numbers. Those titles refer to Greek terms, now common in English, for deep sadness, the spirit of an era, the logic of argument and, most important, reference to the fact that this is a critical time, an opportune moment for change. That word is Kairos.

Though each work is individual, the paintings were rendered as pairs, with each picture asking visual questions of the other and of us.

Pittman demonstrates how an artist can push through self-imposed restrictions to manifest unexpected levels of accomplishment. Not just in terms of his considerable technical prowess but in terms of the complexity of ideology. Symbolically, it is not difficult to find coded messages on resilience, resistance and rage, all in keeping with the news of today. Back to the point about painting and the complexity of the times in which we live. They are times that requires thoughtful response, the sort that is well served by … painting. The show continues through October 25. regenprojects.com.

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