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LOS ANGELES — Audaciously exuberant, Odie, the lovable dog from Jim Davis’s Garfield comics, was a yellow-furred dream come true for any child of the 1980s. It was also, interestingly, artist Jim Drain’s emotional North Star when it came to his latest solo exhibition, Drain Expressions, at Los Angeles’s Prism Gallery.
“[The most challenging part of the show] isn’t really figuring out what you’re going to make, it’s knowing why you’re making it,” says Drain during a phone interview with Hyperallergic. “There are lot of reasons not to be make paintings; you can be really cynical about it. For me, I’m just going to move forward the way Odie does with Garfield. I live in a Garfield world; I’ll just be Odie about it and keep going.”
The result of Drain’s process is an irrepressible play of color on textile that successfully battles against the blandness of the white walls it’s hung upon. Drain Expressions features a tantalizing display of color harnessed in the form of the artist’s signature textile experimentations, wall-mounted assemblages, and screenprints.
Beyond the chromatic noise, each piece elicits a strange signal that calls only to the beholder. At a distance, Drain’s pieces take on the guise of pixelated photographs, too low-res to be clearly read with any satisfaction. On much closer inspection, these “pixels” separate into cotton twill strips cleverly interwoven at varying angles that are painted to superimpose another pattern. It’s a clever illusion that delights and challenges viewers to make of the piece what they will, tying a fictitious narrative slowly forming in their heads to the real piece before them.
In “Fatty Rose Crushing the Sun” (seen at top), I saw the patterns I normally associated with banig, a traditional woven mat ubiquitous in the Philippines. (It also inspired graphic designer Dan Matutina’s popular banig wallpaper digital pattern.) I saw Christmas colors melding together then giving way to the heat of sunset hues. Stepping a little ways back, I finally saw what I could only suppose was the artist’s metaphorical large blushing rose rising up to conquer the sun.
“Hugs” was a happier affair. Sporting rose tones, pinks, plums, and golds, the piece seemed to be the epitome of comforting warmth after a long day of work. Swirls of painted cotton twill crisscrossed in a predictable checkered pattern, only to change angle at the last minute and confound the viewer again. The artist’s experimentations were quite evident on the canvas. A personal favorite was “Camo Champion” (2012), a relatively unassuming piece that surprises with the discovery of chevron-patterned feathers on the side of the frame. Hiding in plain sight indeed!
Unlike the artist’s other exhibits, “Drain Expressions” is bereft of robust, three-dimensional pieces that instantly wow. Drain does have wall works — metal and textile assemblages he has mounted with great effect on the gallery’s walls. Borrowing from his furniture-making experience of the past few years, Drain powder-coats metal pieces and fashions them into branched objects dangling with ephemera. In “Tree of Pestilence,” he hangs body parts, feathers, and cotton twill chains, a discordant mix of the just-past Halloween and upcoming Christmas season.
What he lacks in psychedelic sculpture, Drain makes up for in cohesiveness and dogged focus on color and pattern dynamics. “It wasn’t a turning away from sculpture, it was more about keeping the focus really narrow,” says Drain. “We went down to the basic material where we’re working with actual pigments and binder. There were days that we were doing a lot of volume. We’d do just ultramarine purple or violet all day long. We’d walk out of the studio and see the world differently.”
Though we aren’t immersed in a world of aquamarines, violets, or grays all day long, Drain Expressions reminds us of the effect of color on our physical being. His bold use of it compels an emotional response, and in Drain’s case, that response is joy.
Drain Expressions is on view at PRISM Los Angeles (8746 West Sunset Boulevard) until January 5, 2013.