“Personal Mythologies” compiles apparitions more than apocryphal constructs but these images--classicistic, surrealist and hyperreal by turns - are powerful and artful enough to serve as seedlings for icons to come. 
Tom Wudl's oddly haunting superposition of flower and battleship; Margaret Nielsen's hallucinatory visions of strange clearings in the woods; Scott Greiger’s intense, brittle visages; Cynthia Hollis' landscapes extended out of photographs; Laura Lasworth's images of unnatural forms in unnatural metamorphosis; Peter Edlund's resonant, slyly archaic allegories; and Steve Hanson's ordered combinations of photographic images, abstract designs and smooth and rough textures join more conventional works by Astrid Preston, Elena Sisto, Jon Swihart and Thomas Woodruff in creating an ambience of uncertainty and possibility, of individual imagination extending outward into the collective dream. Meanwhile, insists Richard Misrach, our real relationship with our environment continues to be cruel and bittersweet. The photographs Misrach shows from his "Desert Cantos" and "Bravo 20" series continue the 19th century tradition of depicting the figure in the landscape, dwarfed by the terrible beauty of the elements. But in Misrach’s shots a comic twist often spices this drama: nature yawning and convulsing while being watched from a safe distance by people engaged in their banal habits. Where no humans are seen, the landscape becomes more ferocious: the "Bravo 20" sequence subtitled - "The Bombing of the American West"- documents the almost sculptural perversions that years of military weapons testing have visited on the desert topology. In her waterfall paintings, Pat Steir asserts a more direct faith in nature itself - tinged with nostalgia, perhaps, but satisfyingly primal. As paintings, Steir's huge black canvases splashed with runny pigment shouldn't work - they're much too formally facile - but they do: scale, gesture and texture combine in a dazzling painterly spectacle.  It ain’t Niagara, but it opens up the confines of a gallery space and lets in the roar.  

“Personal Mythologies” at Marc Richards, 2114 Broadway, Santa Monica; thru May 4. Misrach at Jan Kesner, 164 N. La Brea Ave.; thru May 4. Steir at Linda Cathcart, 924 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica; thru May 11.

- Peter Frank