Peter Young's rambunctious 1972 painting "#15" is the only large work among 11 small or modestly sized abstractions by 11 artists in "The Emerald City," an unusually engaging group show at Thomas Solomon Gallery. Young, who has long flown just below the high-profile radar in a career that began in New York in the late 1960s, acts as a sort of wizardly godfather for this fanciful bit of Oz.
What's behind the curtain? The assembly is based on the simple (yet rich) idea that there are an infinite number of provocative ways to apply paint to a piece of canvas.
At first glance, Young's painting looks like a chromatically juiced, psychedelic knockoff of a Jackson Pollock drip-painting, dating from a generation earlier. A vivid palette of red, yellow, blue and green, plus the occasional dribble of brown, swoops and swirls across a canvas that is slightly more than 6 feet tall and 7 feet wide.
Soon though, odd things begin to happen. Patterns come into view, smeared colors belie a straightforward drip technique and mask-like, Rorschach-type pictures dart in and out of view.
Young's painting appears to have been made through a combination of spontaneity and planning, random accident and precise formal intervention, with the canvas sometimes folded onto itself to achieve the blotted effects. The result is a surprising abstraction that, rather than coming together to form a coherent visual whole, seems to be perpetually falling apart and unraveling before your eyes.
Other standouts in the show range from a little 1975 Mary Heilmann, in which the stick end of a brush has scraped off the gold surface paint to draw a nominal marshy landscape from the crimson under-paint; and a 2012 canvas by Analia Saban apparently dipped in lightly pigmented gray cement, which creates a contradictory object that feels at once visually weighty and ephemeral, crude and delicate.
Small abstractions from the last dozen years and composed from a wide array of additional techniques that may or may not employ a brush round out the modest yet handsome exhibition. Those uniformly congenial works are by Etel Adnan, Matti Braun, Brad Eberhard, Gunther Forg, Jacob Kassay, John Mills, Sandeep Mukherjee and Ulrich Wulff.
Thomas Solomon Gallery, 427 Bernard St., Chinatown, (323) 275-1687, through Dec. 22. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.thomassolomongallery.com