At a time when people jump to conclusions more quickly than we can post them online, it’s refreshing to come across Ruth Root’s 11 paintings at 356 Mission in downtown Los Angeles. The New York painter’s wonderfully weird abstractions are so chockablock with possibility that every conclusion you come to turns out be the starting point for another way of understanding her wildly inventive work.
Root begins with individuality. No two paintings are the same shape. Composed of straight edges (with some curved corners and a smattering of scalloped contours), the perimeters call to mind aerial views of urban property lines.
Never letting you rest with first impressions, Root’s works also recall international airmail stationary, particularly those cleverly designed sheets of onionskin paper whose flaps can be licked and folded over to form all-in-one objects that are lighter than conventional letters and less expensive to send.
Think of Root’s paintings as similarly efficient communiqués from her studio. About the size of a doorway or a big window, each consists of two parts.
The top halves are upholstered with custom fabric that Root designs digitally. A talented pattern maker, she transforms eccentric geometric shapes and super-realistic pictures — of people, pizza and paintings, among other things — into information-age hieroglyphs. All work in concert as their messages multiply. Their initial incompatibility does not disappear so much as it spirals into something bigger and more mysterious.
The bottom halves are laser-cut sheets of Plexiglas that Root has covered with thick layers of glistening enamel, wispy puffs of spray paint and primal marks made with colored pencils. Think paintings made on a wayward space station, just for the fun of it. And much more than that.
Root’s installation is similarly confounding. Six freestanding walls have been built in the gigantic gallery. None lines up with another. None stands parallel to the load-bearing walls. To see all the paintings you have to walk through the patchwork labyrinth, committing each to memory before you can compare and contrast it with another.
Multiplicity never looked better. Nor was so enlivening.
356 Mission, 356 S. Mission Road, L.A. Through Nov. 12; closed Mondays and Tuesdays. (323) 609-3162, www.356mission.com