The notion of artists collaborating on an ongoing series of paintings is antithetical to the Western centrality of ego that is to the past 150 years of art as the concept of Original Sin is to religion. Whether it is assertion through chest-thumping, fist-pounding or foot-stomping, the individual demand for attention seems to be the core ingredient of art making inclusive of all genres.

And so the painting collaboration between Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata is a rarity in the contemporary landscape. For two years these two painters have joined their unique, chaotic styles for an invigorating series of paintings. Loren Philip is well known in downtown circles as a lush abstract painter with an energetic approach to formalist excursions of pure painterly pleasure. There are monochromes of slash and burn brushstrokes that seethe with severity. These are followed by more reserved color studies tooling the paint application at a slower, melodic pace. Either way, this is a nimble composer of chroma and structure. Japanese expat Shibata is a figurative expressionist with an emphasis on compositional linework that is equal parts Manga bombast, Egon Schiele-like frailty and calligraphic madness.

Is the sum here greater than the parts? Neither artist is diminished. The collaboration appears to start with a Philip painting on massive raw canvases that appear to be at least ten feet tall and six feet wide. Layers of poured and painted passages are topped with his signature drumbeat brushstrokes of color. On top of this, Shibata comes in with articulated figurative forms wispy and wry, ambiguous here and complete with personality there. Large lyrical linear strokes abound in swirled tension in most of the pictures, supporting the Shibata drawings while complementing the Philip lushness.

The installation at the Castelli gallery, entitled “Year One”, is as bold as the paintings. The giant canvases are mounted so that the bottom few inches of each canvas hits the ground and slinks onto the floor. This literal grounding actually helps keep these wild, amped pictures a little closer to the earth in form and spirit. Most of these canvases appear to want to take off in a spin cycle trip beyond the limits of the typical white cube. They are hung here tightly close together, creating a linear space with no breathing room. The viewer is left to find their own way to come up for air. Just when it feels like this is installation art getting its revenge on painting’s historical supremacy, a portion of the gallery is devoted to small collaborative paintings with mellower Philip passages and more controlled Shibata calligraphy; pictures that you have wall big enough for.

If the show’s only accomplishment was to inspire other artists to break the idiotic taboos surrounding collaborations, conventional installations and conservative hanging techniques, it would be a raging success, one that the increasingly paint-by-numbers, follow-the-leader art world could and should learn from. But the show is more than that because many of the large paintings here are successful executions in their own right. They are bold statements of a triplicate freedom: Philip’s painterly rhythm, Shibata’s deft drawings, and the hypnotic visual power of fearless collaboration.

Castelli Art Space is located at 5428 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016. (310) 204-6830 & CastelliArtSpace.com.

Mat Gleason

Author: Mat Gleason

Founder of the highly controversial Coagula Art Journal (the “National Enquirer of the Art World” as the New York Observer called it), Mat Gleason is an internationally recognized art critic and curator of contemporary art. The New York Times described him as a “famously provocative Los Angeles art critic,” while the L.A. Weekly once referred to him as a “cranky, self-exiled gossipmonger.”

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