Serena Potter at Lois Lambert Gallery
through March 9
Lois Lambert Gallery, Santa Monica
Written by Genie Davis
Serena Potter’s Inside Out, now through March 9th at the Lois Lambert Gallery, is a beautiful body of work that is notable both for stunning craft and its innately intimate view of modern life turned asunder.
Whether working in oil paint or charcoal, these delicately nuanced paintings and drawings offer rich and rewarding figurative work that evokes Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell in her depictions of people and places. But, she evokes them with a slightly surreal bent, or at least a nice darkly humorous twist on conventional perspective. Her world view is also decisively female, in that her subjects are primarily women and children, and her glowing, golden suburbia weaves the rich life of home, friendship, and family. As with her often edgily subversive subjects, the world of women she depicts is wonderfully rich and askew from traditional roles, taking whatever established notion of domestic life is festering in our culture and richly unearthing the tropes; replanting them in artistic purpose.
It all starts with her technique. Her lighting is such that at first glance, a viewer might be excused for thinking that the work is an enhanced photograph. Richly cinematic, her works are like the perfectly captured frames from a technicolor film.
The collection of oil paintings and drawings in this exhibition are dramatic and dreamy; intensely original works that she nonetheless approaches in pragmatic style. Describing her process, the artist relates that it begins with finding an image or idea that intrigues her, and once she has, she researches it on the internet to see how such images were integrated into a story in the past. Then, she decides how to make that image unique and original; how to utilize it to tell her own story.
“After I have done my research I start sketching thumbnails,” she says. And once she’s satisfied herself with that basic image, she creates a photo shoot to illustrate it, and hand draws her own staged photo onto canvas, often using a grid to create work which takes months of detailed painting.
The artist’s emphasis on precise detail plays out in the creation of such a full story in her work. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then each of her paintings must contain far more words behind it than that. It is as if she’s “written” an entire screenplay in her painting.
Her titular oil work here, “Inside Out” recreates a childhood memory of cleaning a goldfish bowl, and spilling the water from a glass holding the fish in their temporary quarters, despite a warning not to spill the water that held the goldfish or the fish would die. The devastating quality of that early memory is recaptured here, but in the painting, it is the mother who spills that water, while a child looks on. The shock of the event still resonates, yet one is struck by the beauty as well as the horror of the moment, the gorgeous glistening fish lying in the driveway, the lush flowers in the driveway planter.
In the charcoal drawing “Victor, Victoria,” two children are playing with make-up, and with gender roles. Victoria has penciled on a mustache, and is pretending to shave. Victor is applying lipstick. The children are lovingly drawn, blonde and beautiful, the perfect siblings – but perhaps they are not quite what they appear to be, or at least not what we’ve told them to be as a society.
In “The Egg Race” a gleeful party game featuring girls running with eggs is seemingly in mid-sabotage by the boys. They are using water guns, grabbing the girls from behind, even spraying them from above. The boys seem much older than the girls; the eggs seem much more than part of a game. The race seems like a race against their own biology, with the men/boys attempting to pull the women back and return them to their “destiny.” It’s so gloriously depicted one might not notice at first the dark underpinnings of this moment. And in the right corner, a small grey cat watches, taken aback, just as the viewer may be.
With “Les Amis,” a more benign scene unfolds. A charming café – named for Potter’s own favorite hangout in Fullerton, Calif. – is the setting for a scene of a woman with a striped tea cup, a man sitting alone at his table staring at his phone, and two friends at a table in the center of the work, each with their own phone, one holding the receiver aloft pointed at herself as if she were attempting to take a selfie. Yes, the receiver: the subversive element here is that our smartphones have been replaced with rotary dial phones. What it?
Potter’s wit, her gorgeous style, her wonderfully provocative view of the “feminine,” and her use of self, memory, and California sunshine are fresh, crisp, and absorbing. To view Potter’s work is akin to diving into a rich and rewarding novel, or viewing a film that you want to re-watch, again and again.
Lois Lambert Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave E3, Santa Monica CA 90404