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to nov. 25

Lori Esposito’s paintings aren’t nearly as annoying as you’d expect. True, her modus operandi sounds pretty familiar by now: She makes small, illustrational paintings, copying graphics from Gothic manuscripts, 18th-century folk art, kids’ books, video games—that sort of stuff. She combines these disparate elements in cartoon dreamscapes filled with drips, blotches, and weird tangles of vines and crystals. The results almost look like lost animation cels from Fantasia, or Eastern mystical texts, or…well, like those precious, ironic little paintings that art schools seem to be cranking out by the truckload these days(The Pink Bath is pictured.) Thankfully Esposito has several advantages. The first is the liberty she takes with the rectangular format. In I Don’t Blame You, Esposito offers strings of pale red blossoms and flower petals like clipped butterfly wings against a backdrop of cool washes of yellow and cerulean. The flowers bleed off the edges of the picture’s surface, taking her decorative impulses around the sides and over the top of the 9-inch-by-12-inch panel. Esposito also knows how to play with surface. In She Had to Go, Esposito scumbles over a plant that’s hovering in the right-hand third of the picture, creating an unresolved spatial hiccup that immediately draws the viewer’s gaze. Finally, there are her radiant colors. The tiny 4-inch-by-7-inch painting, Pods, recalls everything from Paul Klee at his most hushed and quasi-mystical, to bioluminescent deep sea fish hovering in total darkness. Esposito’s ideas may be old hat, but her instincts for making pictures are right on—and sometimes, that’s enough. “Lori Esposito: She Had to Go” is on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Nov. 25, at Irvine Contemporary, 1412 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 332-8767. (Jeffry Cudlin)