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Darren Waterston at Charles Cowles
Animism No. 2
This exhibition features 10 new large oil-on-wood paintings by L.A.-based artist Darren Waterston. Known for highly polished canvases covered with graceful, stylized plant and animal shapes, all hovering in an ethereal space, Waterston was at times compared unfavorably with other purveyors of fantasy spaces and slick surfaces, such as Ross Bleckner and Alexis Rockman. But Waterston seems to have hit his stride. Coinciding with the artist's solo show at the Fresno Art Museum in California, this New York show demonstrates that Waterston has reached a new level of refinement and eloquence.

His haunting spaces, basically abstract as before, are activated by an almost Rococo network of intricate lines and shapes. A work such as Serpentine, for example, seems to show little more than gray mist, yet the dark landscape fragments that quietly emerge from the fog convey the feeling of Northern Song dynasty Chinese painting. One of the most striking works, on display in the rear gallery, is a crystalline gray canvas whose surface is disrupted by a number of tiny red lozenge shapes, like those that appear in early Larry Poons paintings, and a swarm of meticulously painted flies.

But in the key works on view, Waterston has introduced new varieties of birds, figurative elements, including tiny male and female protagonists and nymph-like creatures, all painted in black silhouette that recall Kara Walker's cut-outs. A standout among the dozen works is Animism No. 2, which shows on the left against a searing red background, a cavorting -- perhaps copulating -- couple. In this painting and in several others on view, Waterston suggests a sense of space and time that is dreamlike yet entirely of the here and now.

Darren Waterston, "New Paintings," Oct. 16-Nov. 13, 1999, at Charles Cowles Gallery, 74 Grand, New York, N.Y. 10013.