The two small rooms at the front of this gallery both did and didn’t prepare the viewer for what was to come. The small selections of Gary Lang’s paintings of horizontal lines in one room and of “plaids” in the other, all made in the last decade or so, demonstrated his work’s characteristic richness of color. Even during the several stretches when Lang was living in New York, including the years 1984 to 2001, his palette suggested California warmth and brightness, and now that he’s back on the West Coast the paintings seem quite at home. While not fluorescent or searingly tropical, the colors always seem to capture light, and convey freshness—as well as a sort of tenderness—whatever the hue.
The works in the small galleries also gave evidence of his established process: each line is composed of pulses of color that reveal the depletion and reloading of his brush. There is no spraying, taping or polishing to perfection, but there is evidence of layering one color over another, which sometimes seems to push the top color forward and sometimes seems to draw the viewer’s attention past the surface to parse the works’ shadowy pentimenti.
What these introductory paintings didn’t suggest was the optical power of the works in the gallery’s 60-by-65-foot main space, which was generously installed with 13 of Lang’s concentric circle paintings. He has long used this format—the oldest work in the room dated to 1990, and the newest was finished just before the exhibition opened—in sizes up to 13 feet in diameter; here, the largest pushed against the gallery’s near-20-foot-high ceiling. These tondos have a graphic pop that can stop visitors dead in their tracks. Color adjacencies make some of the rings look like they have neon lights behind them, an effect that Lang says derives from underpainting.
Roam (2008) is a good example: the circles change from dark, heavy red to a whitish yellow near the center, and it’s that pale inner ring that springs forward, seemingly into the viewer’s space. Full Circle (1990) is more modest in size (7 feet in diameter) and lacks the large areas of striking contrast, but it is no less graphic. From a distance, its narrower bands (reds and blue-purples predominate) have their own kind of pulse, evoking the inward-pouring rings that are sometimes used in films to represent loss of consciousness or time travel. Up close, the impact comes from the same trail of process that one saw in the other paintings: the varying load of the brush and the artist’s arm movement yield a more personal but equally memorable throb.
Photo: View of Gary Lang’s exhibition “Circles, Lines, Grids,” 2009, acrylic-on-canvas paintings; at Ace.