Each of Ben Sanders’ large-scale paintings is technically a landscape. Radiant, supersaturated biomorphic shapes — egg, orb, moonrock, celestial body, spouting botanical, cylindrical satellite, mountain peak — hover in firmaments whose chemical gorgeousness is either extraterrestrial or post-apocalyptic or both. The seductive forms are rendered in smooth, curvaceous, crisp contours that are alluring and sublime, and a little bit overwhelming. All the action is in the pageant of pigment skins — chartreuse, blood orange, sunflower, robin’s egg, indigo, pine, pink, peach — and the dimensionality of the singular shapes. But the works are anchored by a clean horizon line and perspectival foregrounds of tightly patterned cracked earth or slick snowy expanse, and that makes them read as landscapes rather than as freeform fantastical abstractions.
Their planetary surfaces are of indeterminate location but infinitely expansive pictorial space, and in their current installation at West Adams gallery OCHI, extend their atmospheres into the physical space of the gallery-goer by means of a cheeky, loud, and unavoidable bed of crunchy black lava rock covering the gallery floor. There is no way to approach the paintings without navigating this field. The dark, noisy rock is more than visually active, as crossing it literally grounds the viewer in gravity and a sense of a millennial scale of time. But it also forms an energetic oomph of contrast with the magical, feather-light forms and the floating worlds extending up and away inside the images. The optical brain massage of the uncannily supreme forms and their pulsating chromatic personalities is balanced by the imaginatively uneven ground beneath your feet, and the impulse toward hushed ae in the presence of the works is thwarted and replaced with the mirth of the gesture’s conceptual inconvenience.
Inside the paintings themselves various ecosystems and atmospheric temperatures evoke phenomena of sky and dream — from eclipses of the sun and phases of the moon, to condensation on meaty petals and nesting life-pods, or the craquelure of dry lake beds and cracking ice. Each work in Deep Time contains a paradox of beauty and poison, and an affecting aura of presence and sentience. It’s a strange exhibition, a neuro-optical sensation, a charming micro-adventure (high heels not recommended), and an unexpected but completely plausible singularity of sci-fi abstraction and hyper-stylized landscape, luxurious painterly technique, and sensuous color theory. These sumptuous views into worlds whose air might not be breathable and whose gravity might be too weak are nevertheless full of wide-eyed, surrealist, operatic pleasure.
Deep Time is on view at OCHI, 3301 W. Washington Blvd., West Adams, through Feb. 25; ochigallery.com.
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