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Rebecca Campbell’s new paintings are looser and juicier and far more beautiful than anything she has made since she began exhibiting her haunting works in Los Angeles 10 years ago. They’re also stranger and scarier than anything else being made today — despite, and because of, their generally benign subjects: pretty girls, gorgeous rainbows and sublime fireworks.

Titled “Romancing the Apocalypse,” Campbell’s smoldering show at L.A. Louver turns melodrama into a whiplash-inducing collision with pleasures whose intensity is driven to a feverish pitch because they are fleeting — there for the moment and then gone forever. Rather than illustrating this Romantic idea in over-dramatized images of fateful events, Campbell boils it down to the basics: the way she lays paint down on canvas, with just the right mix of bull’s-eye precision and forget-it abandon.

Whether painting rainbows, fireworks or mushroom clouds, the real drama is played out in Campbell’s brushstrokes. Emotionally loaded stories unfold as the brush’s bristles are dragged this way and that. Single strokes often start out as gooey gobs of inchoate matter before quickly segueing into deliberate gestures, only to dissipate into messy meltdowns of mixed tints, flattened volumes, lost textures and, ultimately, bare-canvas emptiness. Whistler’s jaw-dropping nocturnes come to mind but do not overshadow the freewheeling fluidity and existential weight of Campbell’s drop-dead paint handling.

Her pictures of girls and women, all lost in thought and more or less oblivious to their surroundings, add sexual tension to the proceedings. Innocence and vulnerability take fleshy form as Campbell manages to make regret and contentment palpable.

All but two of her paintings are small, no bigger than 12-by-20-inches. Their size is belied by their visual power, which packs a wallop and doesn’t stop.

Her 7-by-5-foot “Epidemic” and 4-by-8-foot “Romancing the Apocalypse” are show-stopping knockouts. Each depicts a solitary woman in an unsettling scenario and gives Campbell ample space to strut her painterly stuff. You feel the drama of her works in your gut, where the conflict between holding everything together and just letting go matters most. -- David Pagel

www.latimes.com