Nothing in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s oracular 2010 Biennial Exhibition impressed me more than the work of Los Angeles painter Lesley Vance. Now her work – sadly, only two pieces – figures in a group show just opened at Anthony Meier Fine Arts.
Vance’s untitled canvas (accompanied by an unrelated, untitled watercolor) typifies her approach to working away from a still life subject or photograph. The paint strokes and scraping down in this picture seem to peel apart a dark surface to let in light from behind.
Vance distills painting’s power to evoke tangibility while keeping illusionistic volume to a minimum. The eye reaches again and again into the pale folds of her picture, unable to get a firm hold. A suave abstract surrealism results.
The Vance watercolor here, which rehearses a different oil painting, suggests admiration and study of some of Richard Diebenkorn’s small “Ocean Park” works.
Mark Hagen bestrides the exhibition with a tough, minimalist painting on burlap, speckled with odd irregularities, and a cluster of sculptures in obsidian, a material seldom seen in contemporary art.
Hagen selects blocks of the black “volcanic glass,” has them cut, with limited precision, to his specifications, then polishes certain faces. He presents the pieces on boxy pedestals that might pass for sculptures in their own right.
Hagen’s carvings somehow merge the aesthetic flavor of ancient relics with that of work by a modern sculptor such as Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988).
Richard Hoblock’s paintings keep good company with Vance’s work, to their credit, but they revisit ground already too well trodden in the abstract field.
Fosberg’s follies: The work of Chicagoan Lora Fosberg at Jack Fischer’s adds a little vitriol to tricks it borrows from the cartoonist’s kit.
In gouache and collage on panel pictures such as “More” (2012) and “Blue-Eyed” (2012), Fosberg draws bird’s-eye-view cityscapes in orthogonal perspective. From old-fashioned radio towers on the rooftops collaged, colored bands fan out, blazoned with bullying homilies, slogans and questions: “There is no failure, only feedback,” “I’m not crying, and if I am, it’s not because of you” and such.
They rudely evoke the torrent of propaganda, sentimentality, flimflam and false choice to which mass media treat us every day. Viewed from a distance that makes their script illegible, the bursts of messaging look like cartoon explosions.
The slivers of color, word-filled or empty, spark associations as close as Mark Grotjahn’s abstract paintings and as distant as posters from the era of the Russian Revolution.
In “Free” (2012), the colored bands of collage radiate – wordlessly – from the head of a figure seated on the sidewalk. The title and lack of text seem to suggest an individual who has emptied himself of the messages beamed at him, until one notices on a wall above him the word “FREE!” on a sign displaying a naked woman.
A diptych called “Everything and Nothing” (2011) presents a pendant hill and valley of piled-up consumer stuff: a sort of hoarder’s yin and yang.
Mark Hagen, Richard Hoblock, Lesley Vance: Paintings and sculpture. Through Aug. 3. Anthony Meier Fine Arts, 1969 California St., S.F. (415) 351-1400. www.anthonymeierfinearts.com.
Lora Fosberg: The Miracle of the Actual: Paintings, drawings and a sculpture. Through July 28. Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 956-1178. www.jackfischergallery.com.
Kenneth Baker is The San Francisco Chronicle’s art critic. E-mail: email@example.com