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The L.A. art world’s disorienting trip from readable pulse to bonanza has of late entered a fickle season, with the closures of beloved, younger galleries like Greene Exhibitions, LOUDHAILER and, now, Thomas Duncan. At a recent closing reception for Jesse Willenbring’s Sponsored by Homer (and, incidentally, the gallery itself), the titular Thomas casually sipped a beer, discussing future professional possibilities (and the similarities between Aphex Twin and recent Rihanna) with an approachable optimism that the art world could surely use more of.
Around the gallery, Willenbring’s breezily linear, pastel-tone takes on Homer’s The Odyssey felt specifically, and specially, L.A. like: color, texture, and story-telling of the retold sort that has so shaped the city’s identity (and economy). Willenbring offered a new riff on something very old—the same impulse behind the Getty Villa, or Paramount Ranch, or the “travertine” of many buildings downtown. Whether intentional or not, work of this sort in a local setting engages the short shadow of L.A.’s history, that still feels knowable and palpable, and not that far away.
(Post-spinach) Popeye-like arms burst up from the bottom of the composition in many of the works, in seeming resistance to the raucous accumulation of text and contour falling on the unseen head of our hero (or, at least, protagonist). Deep knowledge of Homer’s text isn’t needed—Penelope could be anyone (even you, if that’s your name)—only the willingness and desire to ponder, briefly, or at length, the transmutation of an ancient text into a merely aged, LA84-style visual language. Winning dexterity, from a gallery that will be missed.
Jesse Willenbring: Sponsored by Homer ran April 16-June 4, 2016 at Thomas Duncan Gallery (6109 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038.