May 1996

Lucas Reiner at Bennett Roberts

In this impressive solo debut, Lucas Reiner's peculiar brand of geometric abstraction augmented by text fragments suggested core samples extracted from the Los Angeles cultural landscape. He begins a work with a kind of field study, using color-chart-style grids to record stray verbal fragments culled from commercial signage and the occasional street scene or conversation, carefully noting the various colors present at the moment of observation. Then, in the actual paintings, the artist replicates this extracted code in arcane charts composed of colored boxes and lines of text, as if sucking up the cityscape in a dropper and then melting it out in oils or acrylics onto linen in his studio. The results resonate with emotion, poetry and gritty reportage. A particularly evocative work is dead dog. The large canvas bears a neutral background studded with squares of the colors that the artist observed in a dog's corpse left beside the freeway. Rivulets of oxblood, ocher and black escape the confines of the squares assigned them in Reiner's color chart, while other boxes are just sketched in, like shorthand notes to be fleshed out later. If one reads the painting left to right like a text, Reiner's composition has a potent ending, a ghostly white square in the lower right-hand corner that suggests, perhaps, the slate of consciousness wiped clean.

Occasioned by a garden conversation with a friend, thank god roses is a meditation on pink and red, here floated out upon an oatmeal-colored background. Held within enclosing registers of tightly defined, smallish squares at the top and bottom, respectively, of the canvas, the words "thank" and "roses" frame the middle section, in which the word "god" is sandwiched between two rows of larger squares. Rather than filling in these cells, Reiner once again only delineates them in the assigned color, so that they are left charged with its absence. The inscription "god" is thus surrounded by empty boxes that appear scrawled in pretty pink and red lipstick, along with pale, painted textual invocations of a garden and romance.

In addition to the paintings, Reiner showed several studies and drawings on paper, as well as a handsome print edition which riffs playfully on grade-school composition books. Reiner's controlled approach, creating a template by which the world can be reduced to its juicy essentials, is filled with genuine feeling, and he never lets his schema become restrictive or rigid. Reiner combines a healthy taste for theory with compelling real-world observation in these works, a satisfying achievement that also promises more to come.

-Tobey Crocket