Contributed by Katy Crowe / Ron Linden’s exhibition “re.dux” at 478 Gallery in San Pedro is a welcome introduction to a large body of visually engaging abstract work that invites interpretation. His reductive, conceptual approach has persisted while evolving. Linden’s palette is minimal, mostly ochre and shades of black with, now and then, red oxide and cobalt blue. Included in his tool kit are staples of traditional painting, commercial and scenic art from which he also borrows tricks of the trade, such as forced perspective, stencils, and faux-finish techniques. The show comprises 16 medium-to-large paintings and a dozen smaller ones installed as a single set. They all adhere to his minimal palette, and most are acrylic and charcoal on canvas, just two on paper. 478 Gallery’s generous exhibition space allows for plenty of air between works, and the consistent palette, punctuated by a spot of red oxide here and there, makes for visual coherence.
Over the years, Linden has developed a language of motifs that recur and translate according to their arrangement. The small paintings collectively titled Re-boot and hung in two horizontal rows of six each depict an iconic head shape. They usually allude to an antique milliner hat block, and alternate between comical and menacing. They could be a series of self-portraits. In other pieces, disembodied lips, heads or hands, piles of books, interiors turned inside out, and vague outlines of tables or chairs can be straightforward, poetic, or punny. Clown Time 1, painted in economical brush strokes of washy blacks over a dirty warm ground, appears divided into windows with flat views of buildings, a skewed table, and surreal protrusions. Viewed from a distance, these windows appear as three-dimensional spaces.
Red Eye, one of the few color paintings in the show, reads as a seance in a red room with voices emanating from an open void. Several other Linden paintings take on a similarly surreal and ethereal character, depicting what look to be wispy hands, like shadow puppets, or perhaps a pair of feet sticking out from the hem of a skirt. Translation is up to the viewer. It can be quite direct. Floating tables have been a recurring image in Linden’s oeuvre, and the title of Under the Table allows the painting to be interpreted as it is thus described. But he has expanded the concept by way of detached mid-century table or chair supports, the legs of a worktable, and an enigmatic black shadow that seems to creep across the canvas from the top down, creating a spooky space that, by inference, is probably in his studio.
Linden’s paintings are mysterious, intellectually rigorous, and agreeably eccentric. His handling of paint – whether it involves scumbling on the surface, describing an interior, or defining a form – is confident and convincing while remaining uncomplicated. When he came to Pasadena from his native Chicago, he quickly immersed himself in a community of artists that had found space in abandoned lofts in the not-then-fashionable Old Town section of Pasadena. For 50 years, he’s worked in the Los Angeles area as a curator and an educator as well as an artist. With luck, a complete survey of Linden’s work will materialize soon enough. Meanwhile, this exhibition offers a fine taste.
“Ron Linden: re.dux,” Gallery 478, 478 West 7th Street, San Pedro, CA. Through December 9, 2023.
About the author: Katy Crowe is a Los Angeles-based painter, working in oil and watercolor.
NOTE: As you may have heard, the Two Coats of Paint 2023 Year-end Fundraising Campaign is underway, and our goal this year is to reach 100% reader participation. If you enjoy the artist interviews, exhibition reviews, NYC and HV Selected Gallery Guides, and other Two Coats painting-cenric content, this is your opportunity to be a part of it. Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to support the project in 2024. Thank you for all your help keeping the conversation going.