Given the current turbulent cultural and political climates, a title like America the Beautiful, describing the fresh body of paintings by Lisa Adams at CB1 Gallery, is at the least bold if not doggedly contentious. Thankfully, the paintings are neither a rally to uphold narrowly defined American values based on exclusivity nor a patronizing sarcasm that does not add to the healthy discussions about the changing America. Despite the all-encompassing gesture in the name, Adams seemingly focuses on stories of a specific locality. These paintings may be best understood and enjoyed instead as LA the Beautiful.
Scenes and artifacts found in and around Los Angeles are mashed up on Adam’s canvases. Instantly recognizable features of the city — sky, river, graffiti, and street sign — are painted in a fairly realistic manner then combined with obscure geometric structures and curvilinear constructions. The results are surreal landscapes, which call to mind the ways in which James Rosenquist has fragmented and reconstructed his compositions. Perhaps a bit of David Salle is in them too, but without his rectangular confining devices or sexual images.
The representational features lend Adam’s paintings to varieties of narrative possibilities. In works like Borderland and We Don’t Kare, the graffiti-like writings suggest a script. However, they remain incomprehensible. The plot is malleable and open to interpretation. Adams appears to be not concerned with controlling the narrative.
Despite this openess, a singular theme of decay permeates through each painting in the exhibition. In We Don’t Kare, the river is made inaccessible by knotted hot pink ropes tied to slanted beams. In Esperanza Valley, a black wrecking ball swings behind the cracked sign. In Population, an aging tree is releasing green gas. For many Angelinos, these sights are too familiar as the city’s infrastructure slowly deteriorates while gentrification and outsiders bring the new wealth that is beyond the reach of the locals.
As America continues to evolve, it is difficult to imagine what the future holds for its current longtime residents as well as for those who pour into this land of opportunity hoping to make it. Adams’ paintings offer no easy comfort. But at least, she continues to paint the “hopelessly hopeful” pictures of always beautiful America.
Lisa Adams’ America the Beautiful is on view at CB1 Gallery through October 31, 2015. It’s a GO-DISCOVER.
All images courtesy of CB1 Gallery.