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Greg Rose: Paradise Redux
July 11–October 5, 2003

Greg Rose, Tropicalia, 2003

oil and alkyd paints on canvas on wood panel, 60 x 60 inches

Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum Purchase, Barbara Uhlmann Memorial Fund, 2003.15

photo: Gene Ogami

Los Angeles artist Greg Rose's paintings are a combination of acid-colors, eccentric ikebana, Asian-inspired landscapes—drawing inspiration from both Chinese and Japanese paintings—and L.A.'s inimitable, hybridized culture. These paintings are soothing yet unnerving because they seem simultaneously familiar and secretive. Rose paints his calligraphic, stylized, and minimalist trees, streams, stones, and flora in decal-like paint surfaces. Intensified phosphorescent hues and disquieting color combinations complicate any easy reading of these paintings. Rose understands that Los Angeles represents the particularly American boundary blurring between Asia, America, nature, artifice, the beautiful, and the unbeautiful.

Stimulated by his cultural and geographic environment, Rose's painted iterations of nature are pure artifice. Having grown up in northern California, he disliked Los Angeles's popular culture, artificiality, and public landscape when he first moved there. The pastiche of cultures, styles, ethnic appropriations and reiterations—Asia via America—retailored and Americanized, was visually disconcerting. However, being immersed in the culture made Rose understand that the beauty of southern California is defined by the very things that bothered him at first, including its self-conscious artifice. Just as moving to Los Angeles is a cliché for dream fulfillment —immigrating for a better life, for financial opportunities unheard of   in home countries, for becoming a star, for breaking into “the business” of Hollywood—the beauty of Los Angeles is that it is, indeed, self-made. As the exhibition's title, Paradise Redux , suggests, Los Angeles represents not only finding, but authoring one's own Elysium.

What can we tease out of Greg Rose's pictorial matrix? 1 Plastic, psychedelic colors and Asian influences only begin to define these highly stylized landscapes. How do these visual effects translate to theoretical effects? Tropicalia 's iridescent pink, lavender, and orangeish yellows coalesce into a serene confusion of simulacra. Contemporary Japanese anime (animation culture) influences and hard contour lines sinuously wind across the canvas, and traditional Japanese painting elements inform the composition. The way the dark tree branch cuts the composition, creating a flat picture plane, may suggest the decorative paintings of the late-16th-century Momoyama period. The tree branch presses up against the front of the picture plane, creating an ambiguous perplexity between foreground and background. The tree trunk's surprising textured paint contrasts smartly with the pink ribbon of paint that offsets the tree from the background. And as with other paintings in this exhibition, Tropicalia also suggests the enigmatic aura, if not the painting style, of classic Chinese landscape paintings, synthesized facsimiles of which can be found in any American Chinatown.

Paradise conceptually and formally presents more perplexity. The stream appears to be in both the foreground and the background, while the unsettling colors seem to belie the title. The wan pink may suggest environmental ill health. If this is paradise, it is foreboding and not altogether welcoming, very unlike the exuberant visual utopia of Tropicalia . With all of Rose's paintings Paradise shares the absence of the human figure. Like a Chinese landscape painting, especially those depicting mountains (the homes of the Immortals) Rose's paintings minimize human presence by leaving it out all together. According to art historian Simon Schama, “… the Chinese spiritual tradition represented mountains as staircases to the celestial, or crumbly aerial platforms on which to concentrate on the dissolution of the bodily self…” 2 In Rose's case, mountains, hills, and inexplicable rock formations could be staircases to the immortality found in southern California's perfect beauty and ingenuity. In the Taoist tradition, the five sacred mountains often depicted in Chinese paintings were spiritual rather than physical. Certainly, Greg Rose's landscapes suggest something other than the actual natural world. Waterfall is a minimalist blockbuster of a landscape, seemingly depicting a mountainous fall of water in the far distance, although, as in all of Rose's paintings, the distance is flattened, perspective is speculative, and nature is beautiful yet discomfitingly artificial.

If the Japanese practice of ikebana is partially defined by idiosyncrasy, in addition to balance, harmony, and form, then Rose's paintings engage not only the formal but the conceptual qualities of ikebana. “The art of flower arrangement (ikebana) originated in the tradition of furyu [the pursuit of refined elegance and tranquility], and was meant to astonish gods with its ingenuity. It is the adding of something different—an act of eccentricity.” 3 Rose's jarring and eccentric color combinations and floral and landscape images are unexpected, and designed if not to startle, then at least to disquiet us. Rose intentionally chooses colors that discourage classification of his paintings into easy types such as pop, anime , or baroque, despite showing influences from all of them. In a layered visual and conceptual discourse, Rose self-reflexively suggests trends in visual art and painting, especially those of southern California. He recognizes that anime , flat painting, and cartoonlike colors may all signify visual clichés that may or may not be transitory, yet are nonetheless instilled into an artistic dialogue. By consciously working within the archetypes of contemporary visual art theory and practice, Asian-inspired trends, pop culture, and L.A.'s fame for being famous, Rose fosters discussion of how trends become fashionable, how they have staying power, and how we think about the jittery relationships between art and popular culture, beauty and tradition.

Dana Self




1. For a lively discussion of dissecting content within and after the Cultural Revolution, see Eugene Y. Wang, “The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description,” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (spring 2000): p. 439.

2. Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1996), p. 411.

3. Masao Yamaguchi, “The Poetics of Exhibition in Japanese Culture,” in Exhibiting Cultures , ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Levine (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), pp. 64–65.