When color is a presence in space

The real and the ideal receive equal emphasis in the work of Los Angeles artist Peter Lodato. The oil painting reproduced here renders an installation work as he would ideally like to see it situated. The work proposed in this picture is a simple rectangle to be painted in deep violet on the white wall of a room, equidistant from the floor and one corner of the space. The point of making this oil study is to clarify and fix certain effects the artist would like the installation piece to have, but which he won't be able to control.

In particular, there is no guarantee that a space in which the artist is invited to make a wall painting will have a shiny floor to reflect the applied color. Nor can he be sure that the light in a given gallery space will have the effect of making the colored rectangle shed a faint violet glow on the adjacent wall. Such effects are very elusive in the firsthand experience of Lodato's installation pieces, so depicting them in an oil study is a way for him to make clear his intentions.

The placement of a colored rectangle on a wall may be seen by many people as a cryptic gesture, almost too simple to be art, yet too puzzling and impractical to be anything else. With his small paintings of idealized installation pieces, the artist explains himself in some degree, making it clear that he is interested in color and light, and in the perceptual changes a shape on the wall undergoes as one moves within the space. The oblique view illustrated in the painting shown here presents the violet shape as a trapezoid, yet we know that this trapezoid, seen frontally, would turn out to be a rectangle.

Lodato's installation pieces belong to the classical abstract strain in modern art. In formal terms, their ancestry includes the work of Ellsworth Kelly , Barnett Newman, Piet Mondrian, and Kasimir Malevich. All of these artists have aimed at an impersonal purity of form and effect.

Lodato's wall pieces differ from the works of his predecessors in scale and intent. His installation works deal with color as a presence in a space, not as decoration. In some pieces, rather than painting directly on a wall, he will mount a large panel of gypsum board on the wall and cover it with flat or enamel color, so that its thickness will give the color a bulk it would not have otherwise.

The psychological power of Lodato's installations is often surprising. They can change completely the feeling of a room, banishing all moods and atmospheres except those evoked by the color or colors he uses. The simplicity of his work is deceptive, for when you focus on it, you end up seeing how much more there is to see in supposedly ''empty'' space than you normally notice.

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