Strangeness abounds at Angles Gallery these days, where two technically exquisite, darkly fantastic bodies of work are paired. It’s been more than 10 years since Constance Mallinson’s last solo appearance in L.A., and this is Israeli-born Yuval Pudik’s first. The show is noteworthy on both counts, but mostly for its enduring, disarming qualities.
Mallinson’s approach to the natural landscape has long braided the contemplative, critical and collage-like; here she ventures into related terrain, with a more concentrated focus. In her four figurative paintings on paper, measuring up to 8 feet per side, human forms are defined entirely in terms of wood and natural debris: patches of bark, frizzles of roots, slender, twining twigs. The visual gamesmanship harks back to Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous composite portraits as well as to the spell-induced transformations of fairy tales, but with a more subversive edge.
One pair of figures is locked in intercourse against a stained white field, a shriveled apple core beside them. Another couple enacts the biblical consequence, expulsion, striding forward naked out of ashen depths. With tremendous acuity, Mallinson renders human anatomy out of the anatomy of trees — gnarled burls, sinuous knots and fungus-blooming bark. The gorgeous offsets the grotesque; homage tempers horror.
The beautiful “Wallpaper” comes as something of a reprieve, invoking far less psychic duress. In direct tribute to the sensual integrity of the dead and dying, Mallinson traces arabesques out of dried branches, split seed pods, faded blossoms and rotted pomegranates. The painting is bittersweet and ravishing.
Pudik’s graphite drawings, in a range of sizes, are a curious mix of the carnivalesque and cartoonish, with a little sexual deviance thrown in for spice. No figure or scene is carried to a logical conclusion. Instead, figures starting out with thigh-high boots and riding crops end up with palm trees for heads or twin cars jutting out of their collars. The rendering is skillful and convincing, a performance that matches the theatricality of the vision.
Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through Feb. 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
-- Leah Ollman