Los Angeles Times

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2000

Art Reviews
By DAVID PAGEL

   A Few New Curves: For the last four years or so, Kristin Leachman has made stripe paintings that look like old braided rugs. Combining a fidelity to the real world (via accurate  illusionism) with a commitment to the rigors of formalist abstraction, the earliest of these vertically oriented pictures are configured symmetrically, with similarly colored bands flanking a central element. Likewise, each “stripe” consists of regularly repeated sequences of three similarly tinted colors-true to the way a real rug’s strands of fabric wrap around one another to form sturdy braids.

At Newspace Gallery, seven new oils  on  panel  are  more  complicated and more ambitious. Gone is the bilateral symmetry. So. too the sequential consistency of the color shifts within each spiraling strand.

In addition, the width of the bands varies more dramatically. With meandering contours that break away from the neatly squared geometry of an ideal grid, Leachman’s stripes curve more than before. So swollen are some that they resemble the silhouettes of snakes that have just swallowed whole animals.

While each painting’s swaying side-to-side  movement increases, its illusionistic depth diminishes. The shading that gives Leachman’s earlier works their trompe l’oeil volume and reassuring familiarity has been eliminated. Now, each vaguely triangular section of every strand  has the presence of a flat tile that makes up a mosaic’s fragmented surface.

The most significant transformation that has taken place involves Leachman’s treatment of light. Where previous works ard illuminated by an even, all-over glow, the new ones include bright sections that recall the glare of improperly shot flash photographs. These hot spots contrast dramatically with the deep shadows around them. Rather than evoking the comforts of home, Leachman’s increasingly shady paintings call to mind the dark side of domesticity, disturbing experiences often swept under the rug.

Historically; her works resurrect Photo-Realism, a short -lived style that flourished in the early 1970s before being buried by an avalanche of negative critical assessment. So despised is this style that few contemporary painters are willing to touch it with a 10-foot pole, much less to share its chilly embrace of artifice. Treading where few dare venture, Leachman weaves together aspects of photographic reproduction, abstract painting and typically feminine crafts – all the better to pull the rug out from under your feet.

Newspace Gallery, 5241. Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 469-9353, through Jan. 6. Closed Sundays and Mon­days