Lari Pittman is a gardener. Particularly fond of succulents, he maintains precisely manicured rows of cacti that borrow from a methodical landscape sensibility, a rational formation he claims “pushes back” against the chaos of nature. A composite of Columbian and American Southern heritage, Pittman is fluent in the duality of cultivated life. He understands that mortality is the only fixed variable in our otherwise unique existence, that micromanaging our realities affords us a sense of archive in the face of impermanence. His proficiency in composed ephemerality thus manifests itself in one hell of a cactus garden, not to mention two staggering concurrent exhibitions currently on view at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, CA.
In the ten studio-fresh works that comprise Pittman’s New Paintings at the gallery’s secondary location (Regen Projects II), there is a painstaking compression of the opulent and familiar. A purposefully cluttered fullness that conjures a likeness to Grandma’s armoire, the canvases are rife with nostalgic ornaments and exotic trifles alike. Potted flowers and picket fences indicative of quiet Americana intertwine with flamboyant nesting dolls and henna-stained feet, affording a visual legibility unspecific to any one demographic.
While initially jarring in their vibrant pandemonium, Pittman’s paintings unearth a system of carefully meditated codes – a series of optical cryptograms that ruminate on the magnificence of hybridity and its modern ubiquity. Pittman celebrates plurality, and through his seemingly paradoxical menagerie of figures, abstractions, silhouettes and patterns he achieves an unanticipated harmony between disparate practices and imagery. Meticulous embellishment reminiscent of early 20th-century decorative arts coexists with cartoonishly provocative characters, forging a relationship that is both comical and wistful in its imaginative meandering. Given Pittman’s sensitivity to the trajectory of life – as echoed through the repeated use of clocks and the (literal) hands of time – it seems only natural to acknowledge our habitual reliance on humor and sentimentality in navigating our own humanity.
Just a crosswalk away from Pittman’s current paintings, Regen Projects I houses Orangerie, a curated repository of the artist’s renderings dating 1980 – 2010. The gallery features 108 works on paper suspended salon-style on bold yellow and green latticed walls, a cheeky allusion to the exhibition’s namesake. Acting as excerpts from Pittman’s larger topography, these pieces chart the exploration of identity, faith, sexuality and ritual through intricate pop-cultural and autobiographical signifiers.
Formative seeds to the artist’s opus, the earlier works probe foundational elements to those in New Paintings. The snappy text of period advertisements is often ensconced in erotically charged sketches proposing weighty inquiries like “How do I find meaning?” or “Why was I born?” in the place of hollow solicitations.
Conversely, some later works operate as narrative flowcharts to a constructed concept of self, as various phrases and labels snake between anthropomorphic contours and diagrams. Acting as a conservatory for Pittman’s most delicate and earnest ventures, this Orangerie is appropriately ripe with the rigorous labor of his oeuvre – its fruit alluringly complex and bittersweet.