Mirror Phase: Jim Hodges at Gladstone Gallery, Llyn Foulkes at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Where Mr. Hodges’s boulders are silent—mysterious dinosaur heads on inscrutable business of their own—for the stubbornly figurative Los Angeles painter Llyn Foulkes, rocks serve as a powerful compromise between the tension-generating constraints of figuration and the symbolic potentials of abstraction. In advance of a major retrospective of the painter’s work planned for UCLA’s Hammer Museum in early 2013, Andrea Rosen Gallery has mounted a small, tightly focused study of his paintings of rocks.

Lost Horizon (1991) shows the head and shoulders of an anxious older man in a thick sweater climbing over a ridge. A “For Sale” sign, a small American flag and a crushed beer or soda can rest at the foot of a tall, straight tree trunk. Behind the man, a series of surreal mountain ridges, the closest shaped into a grim, Lincoln-like face, recede into a flat blue sky; a cruciform seagull, carefully cut from another painting, is blown weirdly backward. It’s important to note that the mountains’ paint has a sticky tactility, while the white clouds look like the first, lethargic strokes of a housepainter; that the can is a real can; and that the tree trunk and the man’s head, built up with modeling paste, project out from the canvas. Eagle Rock (1984), showing the outline of an eagle above a broad gray peak, also plays with the distinction between foreground and background, earth and heaven, night and day, spattering the mountain with drops of sky-blue paint. Shadow and color are blended in a disconcerting way that makes the mountain look like a photogram of blue jeans.

Happy Rock (1969) is a monochrome green painting of a strangely shaped rock, something like a little girl’s dress, with a perfectly circular cutout or superimposed disc. It begins with the way we project our own psychologies onto the world around us, the uneasy give-and-take between found and made beauty, and the close but fundamentally alienated relationship between texture and shape—and it goes on from there.