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"While this exhibition may look playful and inviting, in reality it addresses many complex societal issues." So proclaims the news release for "John Zoller: Color & Learn," now winding down in the Project Room at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. Heck, they had us at "playful and inviting." Zoller's mixed-media creations are based on images the artist has seen in American educational coloring books, and they're candy-hued confections that use such traditional ingredients as acrylic and oil enamel paints but also incorporate glitter, rhinestones, mirror chips, pipe cleaners, miniature pompons, plastic doll eyes, and other ephemera. While a painting like Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin Could Separate More Cotton in One Day Than Could One Hundred Slaves conceivably contains some social commentary, it's difficult to find much more than silly good fun in such works as Professor Tandy and the Golddiggers, with its acrobatic poodles, and Between Good & Evil, which features a boy with parakeets on his shoulders, one of them taking a dump on the tiny poodle logo on his shirt. (Poodle symbolism, anyone?) Zoller is especially good at capturing manly men doing manly things, such as the sturdy, clean-cut fellows who populate Shearing Sheep in Nevada, Lumbering in Arkansas, and Coal Cars Coming Out of a Mine in the Hills of West Virginia. Some of the works are available as handouts in the form of post-card reproductions. The artist may really believe his stated claim on them that he's exploring "an idealized indoctrinated American vision, as taught to children, and all its implications," but it's more credible to think he's just slumming in the territory of low-brow art, having a great time, and trying to rationalize it as something more than it is.
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Michael Mills

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