Until recently, you couldn’t have persuaded me that I could really like paintings in certain colors, but Jon Pestoni’s large, abstract Brushed Teal (2010) suggests otherwise. Though its palette smacks of a sleeve design for, say, Duran Duran’s 1982 record Rio, it’s a serious painting. Several thickly brushed, off-vertical light teal strokes share the top layer of paint, not very willingly, with horizontal, more thinly applied brushstrokes in aqua. These rest on an off-white background with bright red diagonals; where the red is unblemished by the overlaid teal, it pops forcefully.
For reasons other than their deft deployment of color, the nine gestural abstractions (all 2010) in this 41-year-old Los Angeles artist’s first solo show all rewarded long, long looking, as seemingly monochrome fields revealed colorful underpainting, and layers of paint played tricks with each other. For example, Licked (24 inches square), which greeted the visitor, concisely set forth one of the artist’s concerns. Over a brushy off-white background, two white stripes overlay a roughly butterfly-shaped area of red. Despite being beneath the white, the red leaps forth and denies the white its place on top.
Two larger vertical paintings (each 63 by 48 inches) hung close together. On the right was Smoke. Against an ocher background with three brownish-yellow bars that lag slightly from the horizontal, the artist brushed in a handful of roughly vertical purple strokes, varyingly thick and thin. Cooley described them to me as aggressive and visceral, but I saw them as languorous, with all the grace of curtains blowing in the breeze. As I stared, luminous bits of orange pigment popped up in various places on the canvas, adding warmth to the palette.
Next to it, Black Out presented a handful of irregular, slim white verticals at varying intervals over a murky black ground; the shiny surface of the white contrasts with the matte black, which sometimes nudges well into the white slats. Over both are thin applications of purple; as I looked, these colors were gradually joined by yellow, green and blue throughout, as if all these hues were vying for a place on the surface.
In Red Tape, two blunt, uneven red bands shout from the foreground, but the whisper of various shades of gray behind them is just as interesting. Under and partly overlapped by these red stripes are dull gray ones, as though the red bands were translucent and casting shadows onto a surface behind them. Throughout lurk bits of blues and yellows; against the primarily horizontal action, a few vertical strokes become a painterly event.
Photo: Jon Pestoni: Red Tape, 2010, oil on canvas, 45 by 32 inches; at Lisa Cooley