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Getting at the Partial Truth of What We See
June 7, 2002

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Color and Motion Consort in Oils

The 1960s "finish fetish" look, slick and pristine, has its adherents still, decades after surfboard surfaces and gleaming automotive paint jobs first showed up on the walls of Southern California galleries. Its countercurrent, though, runs even stronger.

A fetish for the unfinished, the raw and intentionally unrefined, traces its roots to the gestural immediacy of Abstract Expressionism, if not further. Arron Sturgeon, a young L.A. painter showing at William Turner Gallery, lands soundly in the latter camp.

Sturgeon paints in oil and wax, although "paint" is a catchall verb for the scraping, rubbing, dragging and abrading he does to forge surfaces that look like foundations for something to come--or remnants of something that was. Most of the paintings are 2 or 3 feet square, with a drab base color like that of an aged plaster wall.

With the zeal of an excavator, Sturgeon reveals passages where motion and colors like mauve, rust, sunflower, indigo and grape consort to wide-ranging effect. Often he drags a thick swath of paint across the canvas, its colors mixing as they go. The striated path loops and bends, sometimes stuttering in the manner of Gerhard Richter's lush contrivances.

Scabby spots neighbor more luminous stretches, where Sturgeon has capitalized on the translucency of wax. He musters a huge tactile range in this work and occasionally the canvases get muddy. Generally, Sturgeon pulls back just before the integrity of the texture dissolves, and it's this balance between control and abandon that invigorates the work.

Circles, rectangles and lines painted in solid colors temper the chaos. They don't impose order, but suggest the possibility of its coexistence with the spontaneity that otherwise prevails. Hard edges and soft fluid space find their place in these works, which offer more gratification from close-up than from a distanced, all-over view.

Painterly surrender certainly wins out over geometric order. But Sturgeon seems to relish a certain hybrid quality, exemplified by the title, if not the surface, of one of his best paintings here: "Joy Science."

William Turner Gallery, 77 Market St., Venice, (310) 392-8399, through June
30. Closed Sunday.