Buddy Bunting

When artist Buddy Bunting spotted “the distinctive illumination of prison lights” while driving through Victorville, a town 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, he was already a connoisseur of prison lighting, having long made a specialty of the brutally straight lines and desolate surroundings of prisons in eastern Washington. Bunting’s decisively inked prisons are usually seen off in the distance, lit by a pitiless noon-day sun and surrounded by lots of dramatic white space. His drawings have a vaguely institutional look, almost as if they were issued by a 1970s architectural firm. With this hint of retro chic, and his penchant for pop culture references (beer labels and muscle cars are other favorite subjects), Bunting could easily fall into a facile hipness and become a kind of Raymond Pettibon with better draughtsmanship. But there’s always something held back in his drawings; he never fully indulges the ironic potential of his faux official style, or displays any easily discernible attitude other than an intent interest in the subject at hand. In his current show at SOIL (which ends Saturday), that subject is not Victorville’s prison itself, but an abandoned military base next to the prison. There’s only one drawing here—a wall-filling panorama of bleak military housing, the shadows of dead trees and the contours of sidewalks inked with Bunting’s usual confidence and sullen beauty. An accompanying video that shows Victorville from a moving car has its own deadpan, Jim Jarmuschy charm. DAVID STOESZ

Wednesdays-Saturdays, 12-5 p.m. Starts: Sept. 2. Continues through Sept. 26, 2009

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