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Baby Fresh

Leans' Minimalist Paintings Are Here and Now

Jerald Ieans' paintings are young and fresh. They look very now in the way that the latest backless Nike sneakers or Japanese car design seem inseparable from the age in which they were produced. If Atlanta's corporate lobbies and suites were a little cooler, they might have something like Ieans' colorful, retro-infused paintings on proud display.

The self-taught Ieans, who hails from St. Louis, has built a surprisingly successful career in an art world in love with MFAs and professional pedigrees. He has exhibited in high-profile shows like the 2001 Freestyle exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, devoted to work by emerging black artists, and his happening-ness has been duly noted by no less than Robert Storr, senior curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.

Ieans' works are easy on the eyes, partly because of his preference for pendulous, loopy shapes, the inverse of the hard, mean edges and no-nonsense color palette of minimalism. They share minimalism's pared-down sensibility, though. Like the minimalists, Ieans is clearly interested in form and color, and artmaking as an investigation of their aesthetic properties.

Though they seem defined by their nowness, Ieans' puzzle-piece shapes hang in a teasing limbo with all kinds of historic associations: the boomerang, the biomorphic forms beloved by atomic age designers, Cartoon Network critters, and a little Joan Miro for good measure.

The Loves Baby Soft color palette is equally eyeball-friendly, featuring the kind of soothing, scrumptious tones people use to decorate nurseries and ice cream "shoppes." Ieans' color scheme tends toward the sort of vaguely retro, muted pastels that define Martha Stewart interiors: mellow blues and a range of Crayola flesh tones. The painting "Nipple Dimple," for instance, is a honky rainbow of variations on a white bread theme: sunburned pink, sweetened condensed milk ivory, Malibu Barbie tan, and the pure white of an Alpine mountaintop.

In all of his paintings and the three sculptures on view in White Paintings, Ieans layers his forms like amoebas playing a backyard game of mashed potato where every kid on the block piles one on top of the other to form a flesh mountain. Ieans builds up his layers of paint so thickly that his forms become raised into oil plateaus. In this way, the paintings take on a sculptural effect heightened by the lines Ieans rakes through some of the paint, to distinguish one plateau from another.

Ieans continues those perky shapes in a series of sculptures of powder-sprayed stainless steel that have the slick surface of refrigerators or automobiles. In "Misty," a dark royal blue shape is positioned in front of a similarly cartoonish form painted a softer blue. The idea is repeated in two other sculptures: "Cold Blooded," rendered in gooey reds; and "White Shadow," in which a puddle of ivory in the foreground is accompanied by a taupe trail behind it. Ieans' sculptures lack the punchy, fat-ass shapes, layering and dinner mint color palette that makes the paintings, at the very least, fun to look at.

But what's it all about, Ieans? The fact that enormous white blobs cover an array of yellow hues in "Coolidge," or hang like parasitic kidney beans on the blue dino form of "Winding Right" seems significant, as does the show's title, White Paintings.

Though Ieans sees White Paintings as a formal investigation of a "colorless" white pigment married to other hues, there is room for further interpretation.

Perhaps those giant whitey blobs aren't as innocuous as they first seem, less a meditation on "white" than a culturally loaded, ubiquitous thing casting a long shadow on the world.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com



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