George Melrod reviews David Lloyd’s 365 A Year of Drawing 5.18.19

“365 A Year of Drawing:” A Diary of Aesthetic Discovery
By George Melrod

David Lloyd at Klowden Mann
January 5 – February 9, 2019
6023 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA, 90232

Los Angeles painter David Lloyd has described his work as examining the ridiculous and the sublime in equal measure, and over the course of his 30-plus-year career his work has never shied away from that improbable balancing act. Never one to fit neatly within any easy label, Lloyd graduated CalArts in the mid-1980s, and hit the marketplace running, with several solo shows at LA’s prestigious Margo Leavin Gallery. Although an abstractionist at heart, over the decades, he has continued to weave representational influences into his work, to eclectic, and at times humorous effect. Lloyd’s new exhibition, at LA’s Klowden Mann gallery offers a perfect platform for his surprisingly elastic aesthetic sensibility. Titled 365 A Year of Drawing, the show presents the result of his self-imposed challenge to create one new drawing every day for a year: thus 365 small “drawings” that fill the gallery walls in an effusive salon-style installation. The idea emerged out of a meditative practice; from January 1 to December 31, 2018, Lloyd began each piece each day, at four in the afternoon, setting out on a new direction with each piece.

Yet the display is far from quietly contemplative: rather, in their exuberant diversity they offer a frenetic overflow of ideas, materials, colors and forms. Just calling these pieces “drawings” is a simplification, as they are all mixed media and vary widely in size and materials. Each work draws from a different toolbox; among them, one can discern watercolor, colored pencil, pastel, acrylic, oil and ink, which are often promiscuously blended with fragments of collage. Untitled (May 10), 2018, includes clipped images of a Calder stabile and a turn-of-the-century scientist amid curvy black-and-white forms. In Untitled (Nov 7), 2018 – the drawings are pinned around the gray walls of the gallery roughly chronologically, so one reads them as a sort of visual diary – Lloyd sets the sideways face of a Renaissance Madonna atop the sort of primitive statute that might have inspired the early Modernists, amid an expressionistic field of pink and green.

In numerous works, snippets of patterned paper reminiscent of old wallpaper provide a central focus for the composition. Among these are the elegantly reductive Untitled (January 4), 2018, with its halfmoon belly formed of faded asterisks or the polka-dot blob in Untitled (July 5), 2018, branching into colored lines linked by an arcing white armature to a blue slivered landscape. In Untitled (November 27), 2018, a checked coat becomes a vaguely figurative chesspiece, amidst a Cubist symphony of brown, gray, and yellow. (The source of many of these scraps is a trove of old design magazines that Lloyd bought from a local library when it was cleaning shop).

Of course, an experiment like this wouldn’t work if the artist favored just one style. So the sheer restlessness of his formal imagination is his strongest asset. This show could only be created by an artist with serious art historical chops, particularly as relates to Modernism. At times, Lloyd’s works recall the partitioned color fields of Diebenkorn or the collisive cartooning of Elizabeth Murray; other times, they evoke the canny formal gamesmanship of Thomas Nozkowski, albeit put through an accelerator and played like speed chess. Look hard enough and you’ll see hints of everyone from Rothko to Motherwell to Saul Steinberg. Neither open homages nor hybrid mash-ups, they’re all run gleefully through the psychedelic electric blender of Lloyd’s own unyielding formal and material inventiveness.

In one corner, marking early-to-mid April, Lloyd seems to rifle through Modernist references like a grad student on amphetamines. Untitled (April 4), 2018, suggests a Surrealist web of hanging streetlights by de Chirico, while Untitled (April 5), 2018, looks like a pair of Cubist bongs, for Picasso’s Three Musicians. Untitled (April 7), 2018, offers a speckled, teal-blue egg floating over a tree that might be planted by Dali. Eyes – collaged, painted and implied – appear in various compositions, evoking a range of allusions from masks to Guston. Yet the majority of these works are undefined abstractions that float between genres and play by their own rules. One of Lloyd’s distinguishing attributes has long been his eagerness to intersperse narrative and representational elements into his abstractions; the result here is to provoke audience projection. Is that a face? A sun? A snake? A potato? An amoeba? A martini glass? With their loosely delineated pictorial space and allusive forms, the works invite the viewer’s engagement.

If it all sounds a bit overwhelming, it is; the show is a cornucopia of color, form and texture. To experience it requires making sense of the surfeit of sensation. It helps to view it more than once: over time, some of the more declarative works become less dominating, while the more subtle, frenetic or implausible works rise to the surface to seize the viewer’s attention. I came to see it several times, and each visit prompted new discoveries, a new mental map. But the format also raises useful questions around the economics of selling art. Rather than seven-to-eight paintings each priced at five figures, as in a ‘typical’ gallery show, the exhibition offers hundreds of small works at very low price points. The model seems designed to allow other artists, friends, gallery workers, even critics, who are normally content to be mere admirers of the art shown in galleries, to participate in the art world economy. That’s not to say that all artists should stop crafting masterworks, but a show like this demonstrates another option: a way of side-stepping wealthy collectors and making the artwork available to the artist’s own peers.

Ultimately, an artist has to be free to fail. But how often in a gallery show do you see an artist take those kind of risks? This show, by contrast, feels like 365 rolls of the dice, 365 miniature adventures. In place of artistic branding and assertion, these works feel unfinished, exploratory, deliberately open-ended. Many seem like playful explorations of unlikely paths, without clear destinations. Eschewing any presumption of authority, they’re works that let the seams show: you can practically see the synapses popping in Lloyd’s head with each work. In fact, during the course of his year-long drawing marathon, Lloyd daily posted each new drawing on Instagram, allowing his self-selected audience to view each artwork as it came into being. That performative aspect feels baked into the show: it’s all about process, not the finished product. At once sensual and effusive, the exhibition marks not so much the end of a journey but a celebration of it.