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Alexander Kroll’s “At Home in Outer Space” at Frederic Snitzer Gallery

This post was contributed by David Alexander Bennett. 

Somewhat at odds with the show’s celestial title, one of the first words that enters the mind on viewing the large canvases of Los Angeles-based painter Alexander Kroll is terrain. The paintings impart an earthly sensibility even though they don’t denote any familiar forms, like the landscape of a restructured Earth viewed from the stratosphere, or the minute geographies contained in a microscopic close-up of a surface. Composed of splashes of color that collide, wash over one another, and at times vie for the foreground, Kroll’s works are overwhelmingly sensual, and hold appeal even for those not acquainted or enamored with conventional abstraction.

The paintings were housed in Fredric Snitzer’s new, off-the-beaten-path gallery, just north of downtown’s nightlife scene and south of Wynwood’s tourist bustle. The airy space, with its high ceilings and clean white walls, allowed Kroll’s work to stand monumentally on its own two feet. The pieces demand the viewer’s attention from a distance with their vibrant coloration, and hold the viewer’s interest with innumerable areas. No extraneous details are given, no backstory; the only text displayed was the artist’s name and the name of the show, At Home in Outer Space. That title is a hook that reflects the dichotomy mentioned earlier — that these paintings feel familiar, yet alien; a comfortable seat to couch an array of galactic wonders.

"At Home in Outer Space", 2016, acrylic & glass on canvas, 70 x 165.5 in.

“At Home in Outer Space”, 2016, acrylic & glass on canvas, 70 x 165.5 in.

The titular piece of the show was an enormous canvas, almost fourteen feet long by six feet high. Awash with pastels, like a Robitussin pink that creeps in from the edges, the canvas is disrupted with gestural strokes of thick paint that break up the fluidity of the gentler background. Embedded in one area is a fine glass dust, and each section has a distinct textural tone that nonetheless works cohesively with the whole. Grasping the connections between these distinct areas is work left to the viewer, but somehow Kroll makes it feel less like intellectual labor and more like the excavation of a buried secret hidden in his canvases. This is due in no small part to his intuition in matters of color choice and composition, as well as the “happy accidents” he chooses to highlight in his works, versus the more painterly, amorphous segments that impart energy and draw the eye around the piece.

"Granite and Lavender", 2016, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 80 in.

“Granite and Lavender”, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 80 in.

Working with a similar palette is “Granite and Lavender”, a near-square piece that, with its centralized composition, suggests a portal or architectural opening. Kroll is no stranger to this architectural interpretation of his forms: the layered spaces, with odd depths that conflates back- and foregrounds, suggest a building or space in the mode of becoming. In an earlier interview with Kroll for LA I’m Yours, the artist insists that the compositions are not planned in a conventional sense. “In fact, they’re really a lot like Los Angeles: there is a total lack of concern with planning,” he jests. “[Planning is] not interesting to me. Each decision, each moment is highly considered and rigorously thought about but I don’t always think about the effect that will have on the surrounding area. For example, nobody knew when they put up Disney Hall that Frank Gehry’s design would raise the ambient temperature in the neighborhood by a number of degrees. I completely think that happens in paintings.”

"Dogs and Lakes and Electricity", 2016, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 90 in.

“Dogs and Lakes and Electricity”, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 90 in.

The comparison is particularly apt in a piece like “Dogs and Lakes and Electricity”, where jellyfish-like washes weave into each other in suspended animation, creating an ever-changing backdrop that undulates beneath a wiry spray of opalescent paint. Like the rest of Kroll’s oeuvre, the piece is light on actual forms but heavy on mood and tonality, and all the more compelling for its ambiguity. A smaller side-room housed three pieces with some suggestive titles, namely “Sexual Painting” and “Fawn Lips Quivering”, soaked in deep reds and pinks as though seeking to inhabit the body from the inside. These pieces played more overtly on the sensual undertones in Kroll’s work, but still managed to attract formal interest on the strength of their compositions and color interplay.

Abstraction, by definition, doesn’t have to leave one cold — quite the opposite. These paintings engage on many levels, from the high-minded intellectual study of the techniques the artist employs to the emotional resonance they’re imbued with — and that’s something no textbook can teach.

At Home in Outer Space  at Fredric Snitzer ran from March 31 to May 9, 2016[.]

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Alexander Kroll’s “At Home in Outer Space” at Frederic Snitzer Gallery