Damian Loeb at Mary Boone

Atmosphere
I Hear The Word of the Lord (2001)
36x162in Oil on Linen

There are intriguing similarities between detective writer Raymond Chandler's prose and Damian Loeb's recent grouping of cinematic, wide-format oil paintings. Chandler, in his L.A.-based stories, tinges his meticulously described, rather mundane scenes with a sense of imminent danger and conveys and underlying message that moral order has gone awry. Loeb, in the best of his six 14-foot-long narrative works, creates similarly heightened realist settings where an ominous mood emerges from a few offbeat elements.

In the tightly rendered depiction of a cheesy motel parking lot at night, the long horizontal format of I Hear the Word of the Lord (Public Domain), 2000-01, forces the eye to travel, panning like a camera, past an empty, illuminated swimming pool, past a group of spindly trees, and finally to a 1950s sedan in the far corner, its headlights shining toward a closed door in the complex. One intuits unseemly goings-on, something about to happen. Another canvas, Exit (You Accept Your Fate), 2000, portrays a placid airplane cabin during a night flight. Passengers sit facing forward; the perspective directs the viewer's eye straight toward a small illuminated exit sign above an emergency door, conveying more than a hint of impending doom.

This narrative finesse marks a leap forward for the artist, whose previous works often came across as heavy-handed and obvious, virtually pummeling the viewer with "drama." With some of his earlier work, Loeb gained press attention (and some legal difficulties) for using published photographs without permission, which he would then duplicate and combine in seamless fashion with other images in sometimes shocking tableaux. In this recent exhibition titled "Public Domain," (get it?), portions of the painting used films for the source, although their origins are not immediately identifiable.

At times however, these tableaux border on cliche- as with a nocturnal scene of a man in a trench coat rushing furtively through a graveyard. In another work, a hotel bedroom next to a blindingly lit antiseptic bathroom is the setting for Edward Hopperesque desolation, with a woman sitting half dressed on the bed. As an added touch, one catches a glimpse of another person through a cracked-open door-perhaps a lover making a quick exit.

In the gallery's adjoining back room were small ancillary canvases- "outtakes," as it were- corresponding to the larger works. These are effective paintings, whose seemingly unintended subtext is the degree to which "reality" nowadays is shaped by secondhand images.

— Carey Lovelace



–Lovelace, Carey
February 01, 2002