Fusing abstract expressionistic smears and dribbles with realist painting, Kirsten Everberg depicts strange, aqueous spaces that evoke dreams more than they do their real-world referents. Teetering on the edge of beauty, Everberg’s paintings present viewers with something they can recognize and engage with (a landscape, an iconic building), but often in a gestural style that flirts with messiness and disorder. Everberg’s fourth solo show at this gallery featured nine large-scale paintings (most approximately 6 by 5 feet), the strongest of which evidence a subtle refinement, or loosening, of her signature style.
The pictures fall into two distinct groups: landscapes rendered in lurid greens—moss, olive, mint—and interiors in slate grays and ocher. Everberg based the works on sites in her home city of Los Angeles: the Arboretum and the Bradbury Building. The titles, however, indicate far-flung locales—places the sites could, and in a few cases do, portray in Hollywood movies. The Bradbury, with its ornate stairways and hallways, is presented as the Hotel Royale, China, in one image and a military hospital in Great Britain in another, while the landscapes—filled with lush vegetation that overwhelms any glimpse of architecture—bear names including Dutch East Indies and Burma.
This sleight of hand is at odds with the populist quality of the paintings; although the compositions are in fact expertly crafted, the loose mark-making has a you-can-do-it-too effect that is part of the works’ appeal. Everberg begins the pictures with an underpainting in oil, which she then covers with drips and splatters of enamel. But hers is no Pollockian endeavor. The marks are generally conceived as parts of a representational whole—thick swaths of black paint ultimately serve as building columns, for instance, and strokes and pours of green enamel as foliage. Clarity is enhanced when such forms appear against sporadic areas of open abstraction, such as the sublime spot, directly at the center of The Congo (all works 2011), where lines and squiggles cease to be palms and a placid landscape slips incongruously, effortlessly, into chaos.
The idea behind these works is that Los Angeles is a place of perpetually shifting meaning due to its (now diminishing) use as a set for films. Instead, however, the conceptual conceit seems only to acquiesce to a kind of Hollywood esthetic colonialism, in which distinctions in venue or country are smoothed over, eased into a catchall vista. The conceit is no match for the joyous eccentricity and lavish tactility of Everberg’s painting itself, which continues to engage the viewer and to provoke states of curious reverie.
Photo: Kirsten Everberg: Phillips Import/Export, 2011, oil and enamel on canvas, 6 by 5 feet; at 1301PE.