Editors' pick

Comfort Zone

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Editorial Review

Tidings of comfort, joy in the suburbs
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, December 21, 2012

Could there be irony in opening an art gallery in a Fairfax shopping center and then calling one of its exhibitions “Comfort Zone” -- especially when the work doesn’t include hunt-country landscapes, cute animals or still lifes with flowers, and the space doesn’t double as a frame shop?

The current mixed-media roundup at the Adam Lister Gallery, in Fairfax’s Old Town Plaza, features seven contemporary artists (eight if you count the space’s namesake, painter Adam Lister, who tries to pass off his own geometric abstractions as an afterthought or a footnote to the main show). “Comfort Zone” isn’t the edgiest or most challenging stuff you’ve seen, but it also isn't what you’d expect to find around the corner from a Panera.

Lister’s coolly decorative paintings -- blocks of color ranging from candied pastels to subtle fluorescents piled up in a precarious jumble -- may be among the show’s most comforting works in the way they connect to the Washington Color School’s legacy. At the other end of the comfort spectrum is an almost accidental-looking splatter of pink spray paint on a long scroll of paper by the artist JAMIN. It includes a QR code stuck on the paper; point a smartphone at it and a Dadaist text fragment pops up on the screen: “RUN OVhER ME.”

Only one artist plays with the idea of the comfort zone as a physical place. Jeff Duka’s two seascapes seem to depict soothing waters, but if you look more closely at one of them, you’ll see oil rigs in the distance.

Most of the other artists interpret the show’s theme, which might broadly be expressed as the tension between ease and unease, in a more figurative sense. Matthew Somma’s paintings of Lego Star Wars action figures have a warm familiarity. But the formality with which they’re painted seems out of place, in a gently wry way.

On the other hand, there’s nothing gentle about Lucia Love’s “Stabby Straws.” The artist’s series of tiny table-top sculptures, fashioned from children’s drinking straws and razor blades, look like weapons made in prison.

David Barr’s “Corporate Camo” paintings pack a subtler punch and are among the strongest works. Like deconstructed versions of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans or Brillo boxes, they’re made from commercial logos, reconfigured in military camouflage patterns.

The message is clear, if uncomfortable: Corporate marketing is so ubiquitous that we don’t even see it -- or the insidious threat it masks -- anymore.