Lisa Adams, A Piebald Era
Garis & Hahn
Through February 17th
By Lorraine Heitzman
Lisa Adams has a well-known reputation as a painter, but what is so striking about her show, A Piebald Era at Garis & Hahn Gallery, is her strength as a storyteller. She seeks to capture the truth of Los Angeles and the desert in a commentary that is partly real and partly imagined, a sort of historical fiction in which the actors and action remain hidden. In Adams’ vision of the Southland she either highlights beauty amidst destruction or else laments its absence entirely. Forsaken street scenes, frozen in time, are entwined with cultivated flowers, weeds, and wild animals, bringing to mind those opportunistic wildflowers that favor damaged, trampled terrain. Her unflinching views of neglected cityscapes have a political component, too. A crumpled American flag may subtly criticize the current state of our democracy, but mostly her paintings are imbued with a heartfelt cri de coeur against the decline and desecration of our habitat.
In paintings such as The Flat Hope of Exile, You Can Never Die, and Anthropogenic Carousel, the titles reveal Adams’ serious concerns depicted in fantastical tableaux. Her vision is idiosyncratic, but that is not the same as being whimsical, for she is nothing but earnest. Fortunately, she manages to strike a balance between her convictions and her imagination, leaving room for mystery.
The show also includes self-portraits, revealing personal dualities, as well as two lovely small paintings of flowers, The Confidence of Fables, and the Expiration of Icons, set against halos and backdrops of graffiti. Flowers are a recurring theme in Adams’ work, and the religious references in these paintings highlight her affinity for nature. In a compelling self-portrait, In The Era Of Me Too, she portrays herself with hints of a pink pussy hat and tape across her mouth. The image is tightly composed to focus on her expression and her constraints. Prevented from speaking out, her eyes alone convey her emotions, but the irony is that she communicates very well through her art and her voice and message are abundantly clear.
Under the Watchtower is composed of architectural elements that mimic Untitled (Model for Watchtower) across the room. More abstract than her other work; the painting depicts a simple scene that looks constructed from a set of children’s building blocks. She interrupts the pastel palette by a hard-edged shape in brilliant blue, allowing the crisp shape to focus our attention and counter the sweetness and lack of specificity. The painting is especially strong and the absence of a clear narrative demonstrates Adams’ ability to create mood and visual interest with a minimum of elements.
Not every artist could withstand the challenge of brick walls that line the Garis & Hahn interior space, but Adams’ work, more concerned with her imagery than surface, is fortified by the contrast and distinctly urban context. In the first room of the gallery, A Summary of Escalation neatly defines and distills the theme of her show. That installation, a vignette that seems lifted from one of her paintings, perfectly captures her attraction to scenes that reflect the destructive effect of people on our built and natural habitats.
A Piebald Era confirms Adams’ strengths as a painter, but also suggests that if she chose to make more sculptures and installations it would be a rewarding exploration. Whichever form her work takes, her views of Southern California will always be of interest because they speak to our condition so clearly. And when we acknowledge the truth in her bizarre fictions, perhaps we can begin to find a remedy.
Garis & Hahn
1820 Industrial Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Hours: Tuesday: 1-5pm
Wednesday – Saturday: 11am-5 pm