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Lari Pittman

American, b. 1952


Oil, acrylic, gold leaf, and cork on mahogany
68 x 54 x 1.75 in.
Gift of Joe Austin and the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

Lari Pittman puts ambiguity to good use in this two-panel painting, bending—but not breaking—artistic conventions to suggest that transformation is at the heart of his playful conflation of abstraction and representation. Every element in the L.A. painter’s organic cartoon winks knowingly at art history as it opens the moment to all sorts of possibilities.

The open-endedness begins with the title, which intimates that this is not an object that just sits there but one that does something. Too humble—or antiauthoritarian—to tell you what that is, Pittman simply claims that Hibernating is in a state of suspended animation, slumbering until it awakens when viewers lay eyes on the mysterious composition and begin to make sense of its plentiful—and definitive—idiosyncrasies.

The paired panels of this odd diptych, neither the same size nor arranged side by side, echo the form of architectural columns, ancient icons, and freestanding totems. Its materials are also peculiar. Rather than canvas or wood, Pittman has painted on cork veneer, applying oil, acrylic, and torn bits of gold leaf cloth to a surface that recalls office bulletin boards and suburban rec room decor. In contrast to such references, the palette is muted and earthy: its tans, browns, grays, and whites suggest organic processes and natural life cycles.

Pittman’s quasi-figurative imagery invites even more wide-ranging associations and imaginative interpretations. Birds and plants share space with abstract patterns that resemble roots and neural networks. A large gray vessel, with a sailboat’s rigging, oats atop a pair of eye-shaped objects, each adorned with markings that recall petroglyphs and antennae that could belong to insects or alien spaceships. Pittman’s gently surrealistic picture abandons the clarity of narrative to bring us more deeply into life’s mystery.

David Pagel

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