Tim Bavington, Apr. 3-May 15, 2004, at Mark Moore Gallery, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, Ca. 90404
Leo Villareal, May 15-June 26, 2004, at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Tim Bavington and Leo Villareal are impressionists for a digital century. Both make art that is primarily concerned with light, movement and the rhythms of contemporary life. You dont need to know anything, you dont need to understand anything and you dont need to have anything explained to you when you look at their work. All you have to do is admire its shockingly vivid color, its movement, and lose yourself in the art in front of you.
In fact the work of Bavington and Villareal is so seductive, so blissfully trippy, so brightly rapturous that it practically turns an art critic into an adverb generator. Bavington is a painter who uses spray paint and an airbrush to build neon-striped canvases that simultaneously recall Gene Davis and the Las Vegas Strip. He recently had a solo show at Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, Ca.
Villareal is a light sculptor whose sculptures use Plexiglas and LEDs, the super-bright diodes that emit intense light. Each sculpture is run by a computer chip which is programmed to direct the light into fantastic patterns and waves and flashes. A solo show of Villareals work just closed at Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C.
Bavington is the star painter of the Las Vegas School, a set of artists that was celebrated by the influential Las Vegas art critic and curator Dave Hickey and that includes Sush Machida Gaikotsu, David Ryan, Yek and others. Bavingtons light is the neon of the Las Vegas Strip, that surreal stretch of sublime bourgeois American iniquity that is our Seine. The neon-emitting casinos are our Grand Jatte, our la Genouille, and Bavingtons abstractions capture the Strips brightness and intensity of color and light.
Bavingtons abstractions make a range of other references, of course. He builds Roll with It out of five stacked canvases, a riff on Donald Judd's stacked boxes, and repeats striped patterns in Love on the Rocks (with No Ice), a device that is reminiscent of 60s serial art. And Kandinsky and other early modernists, Bavington takes pains to link his paintings to music. The titles of his works reference songs by bands such as Stone Roses and The Darkness.
Leo Villareal makes light sculptures. Its easy to trace Villareals family tree back to Dan Flavin, though the family resemblance is slight. Flavins glass tubes gave off steady, fluorescent light. Villareals plastic tubes give off ever-changing LED bursts. Flavins tubes are super-low tech, plug-and-play. Villareals sculptures run by a sophisticated computer program and emit a variety of effects. Flavins tubes are slow burns, full of subtlety and surprising colors. Villareal delivers amplifications of blue, green, pink, red, yellow, green, white and purple. Colors pulsate down plastic tubes and then run back. Villareals lights jump and juke, flit and flash, dance and dive.
The sculptures are hypnotic. They distill the present, taking our cultural fascination with Bright Lights, Big City, and reducing it to a minimal essence. It is as if Villareal has taken Times Square and shrunk it down to pedestal size. He gives us the essence of urban sensation (without imploring us to drink Maxwell House).
Even when Villareal banishes color, his works feel rooted in the rhythm of New York life. Bulbox 3.0, for instance, is a nine-inch square filled with a grid of white LEDs. Waves of light flash up and down and all around the surface of the sculpture, as if Piet Mondrians Broadway Boogie Woogie was channeled through the 1980s pinball arcade hit Centipede. The whiteness of the light brings to mind car headlights filtering from uptown to downtown, changing lanes, moving fast.
Today, most Impressionist paintings and the leisure they depict seem quaint, even distant. But our form of middle-class leisure, urban sensation zones like New York and Las Vegas, are ultra-amped. Everyone knows that artificial brightness and intensity. Bavington and Villareal are up to the challenge. When neon and LED-driven urbanity effectively raise the visual bet, they go all-in.