Arnold Mesches, Coming Attractions 5, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 50"
via ArtForum.com CRITICS' PICKS:
Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Avenue
January 24–April 18
The practice of stating an artist’s age alongside his or her achievements, though typical, rarely adds much of value to a viewer’s understanding of the work—not so with the oeuvre of Arnold Mesches. At eighty-six years old, Mesches has been making and exhibiting his art for over half a century. Though irrelevant to the combined pleasure and revulsion induced by Mesches’s dark, drippy, at times ghastly, but nearly always masterful paintings, knowledge of his long-standing career adds a measure of gravitas to a wonderfully challenging body of work. In his new exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the octogenarian reveals himself to be something of a snake charmer; sinuous blood-red lines and flamelike markings cohere just enough to form representational images—vast, ornate interiors in the first room of the gallery and spooky, swamplike landscapes in the next.
Resisting formal and conceptual categories, Mesches’s overtly passionate style—rife with opaque narrative symbolism, intricately obsessive lines, and darkly psychological undertones—could mistakenly be considered naive or outsider, but by having studied art in the 1940s and exhibited and taught ever since, Mesches avoids that slippery designation as well. Most compelling is the images’ idiosyncratically liminal quality, as when a group of trick-or-treaters—or maybe masked murderers—hurries past a morass of brilliant red and ocher yellow that congeals simultaneously into a wall of fire and a harmless block of autumn trees. A streaky wash of grays and browns threatens to disappear into the amorphous damp of an elegant swamp before solidifying into three trees reflected in a lake—a man in colonial uniform, dressed for revolution, dining alone among them.