“Strong Magic” works best in small doses. For his show by that name at CB1 Gallery, Santa Barbara-based Nathan Hayden inked a huge mural and lined the walls with 16 paintings on industrial felt, some up to 7 feet in height — large gestures that are uneven in their potency.
Tabletop ceramic sculptures, more modest in size and outward ambition, are more intriguing.
Even smaller pieces are the show’s most peculiar and enchanting: The nine littlest works (7 to 10 inches tall) read as miniatures, or maquettes. Each features a playing-card-size watercolor on paper, propped on an unglazed clay base like a painting displayed on an easel.
The images of suns, stylized landscapes and jaunty zigzag and ripple patterns are more vibrant versions of motifs found in the felt hangings. Their colors are more saturate, and the tiny scale gives them the mystique of private tokens.
The ceramic forms they rest upon have an equally unaffected charm. Their pale, pinkish clay offsets the denser hues of emerald, siena and ocher in the paintings, and their bent and folded planes, wedges and lobes rhyme with the geometries on paper.
Hayden’s other series of ceramic sculptures, collectively titled “We are Landscape,” stand about a foot tall. Their playful, angular designs shape-shift between schematic tree forms, speculative architectural structures, and human and animal limbs.
The broad black stripes of the wall mural oscillate too, between pattern and figure, flatness and depth. The mural’s diamonds, pinwheels, cubes and pictographs suggest a freestyle Native American rug, its trails of dripping ink like loose, dangling threads.
The paintings on thick wool felt no longer have the hallucinogenic abandon of those shown here a few years ago. These feel tamer, less driven by vision than by graphic design. The way the pigment emulsion soaks into the fibers is texturally interesting, a toothy equivalent to the way paint saturates wet plaster in a fresco. In places, however, the color bleeds distractingly over its boundaries, looking more sloppy than spontaneous. Those felt paintings with crisper execution manage a curious split personality — part early modernist abstraction, part hippie home decor.
CB1 Gallery, 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., L.A. Through April 7; closed Sundays and Mondays. (213) 806-7889, www.cb1gallery.com
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