Lari Pittman’s razzle-dazzle surfaces on deep canvasses
In 1985, painter Lari Pittman was shot during the burglary of his Los Angeles home. He came back from that experience and used it to push his work to another level. His already visually dense work got denser and more vibrant until eventually they just sang out “Hey Girl, Cum n’ Git It.” That white hot body of work brought a mid-career retrospective in 1996, inclusion in several biennials, international exhibitions, tenure at UCLA, and seats on the boards of directors of two major California museums.
Whew, it just warms your gay pride heart, doesn’t it?
So with all of that, you might well ask, “Girlfriend, what have you done for me lately?” This is Pittman’s third solo exhibition at Gladstone, his fifth in New York, and it appears that he has come to end of a transitional phase, setting the stage for something yet to come.
The 11 large interior/still-life paintings read like a spread from a bizzaro world issue of Elle Décor, set by Jonathan Adler or Ivan Albright days into a major Tina toot. There is a place where dish gardens burst into flames—“Untitled #8 (The Dining Room)”—and where ceramic beer tankards grow umbilical cords—“Untitled #5 (The Kitchen)—roses are buzz saws and pitchers empty themselves—Untitled #11(The Bedroom).” The detail is so overabundant and so exquisite in finish that you could get lost in any number of scenarios, readings, or narrative hooks.
New in the mix are the saturated, jewel-colored glazes swiped on with rags or fat brushes in a touch of spontaneity that feels earth shattering for this very done-to-the-nth degree painter. Pittman excels at all of this and I have to admit to a real admiration for the faux woodcut effects—how the hell did he do that anyway? But, where is all this hubbub leading?
To his credit, Pittman has really opened up and revealed the process of his work. Beyond the matte surface razzle-dazzle, you can see deep into these paintings, down to the first rich layers of paint. As vulnerable as that is, there is a sense of expectation, of waiting for the players to step out on to the stage or into the frame. The scarecrow figures in “Untitled #4 (In the Patio)” and “Untitled #7 (The Manager)” are limp stand-ins, holding place for somebody or something yet to reveal themselves. Call me Goldilocks, but I can’t wait to meet the folks that live there.