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Jeffrey O'Connell
FIG, Santa Monica, California
Preview by Mario Cutajar

Jeffrey O'Connell, ''Crowd Control,'' 2003-12, pigment print, 23 x 23 1/2''.

Continuing through June 22, 2013


Jeffrey O’Connell’s best works are undoubtedly the tightly composed idiosyncratic abstractions he has turned out over the last two decades. These reveal him to be an accomplished colorist capable of playfully integrating into his work a range of references that encompass Matisse, Hockney, Diebenkorn, Terry Winters, and others. Prior to embarking on this felicitous phase in his career, he spent a decade that he retrospectively refers to as his “Black Period,” which yielded a body of figurative work that may have well had therapeutic value for him but is wildly uneven. The romantic notion that suffering grants heightened artistic vision is true, unfortunately, only to the extent that one already possesses sufficient vision to regard one’s suffering with wry detachment. Of the samples of the work from the "Black Period" that are available on the FIG website, the best-realized and least bathetic are also the most abstract. A really outstanding one is a spatially ambiguous composition titled "In a Garden Pool" that manages to evoke, as in a fever dream, euphoria and anxiety simultaneously.


O'Connell claims that the imagery from the now relatively distant "Black Period" somehow informs the series of altered photographs he has been producing alongside his abstractions over the last decade. More specifically, the connection would seem to be a return to something resembling collage, a medium O’Connell turned to when invited to do a show at the old Beyond Baroque in 1978. The artist suggests that at that time collage enabled him to piece together his own repressed familial history.


The newer work would seem to be a way for O’Connell to return to the site of his trauma with slightly more equanimity. On display are a series of painted-over photographs and a number of digital prints. Of the latter, some are straight-up snapshots, such as "Jerry," which is an overhead shot of a balding man on the phone shielding his face from the harsh light with his hands. Others appear to be of faces distorted by the digital equivalent of funhouse mirrors. A few show heads looming on the side of buildings or elevated on pedestals staring wide-eyed back at the viewer. These bear close relationship with the disembodied heads that populated the paintings of the "Black Period."


The paint-altered photographs, which range in size from quite small individual pieces to larger ones assembled from up to a dozen abutted photographs, are more whimsical but also owe an obvious debt to the stick figures found in Dubuffet’s copious drawings and paintings. They also share Dubuffet’s palette of de-saturated primaries, browns and greys. In practically all of these, the photographic image functions like the irritating grit around which pearls form. Typically, after O’Connell has finished encrusting the found photographs with his doodles and patterns, only small details of the underlying image remain visible. The simultaneous amplification, isolation, and abstraction of the underlying figures gives strong indication of the source of the mannequin-like figures that crop up — sometimes as a mere constellation of circles — in O’Connell’s abstract paintings.


In the statement accompanying the show, O’Connell says his work has reached another point of transition. The invocation of his "Black Period" suggests a pulling back into interiority in preparation for an expansion yet to come.


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2013

First Independent Gallery, FIG

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