Lena Moross at Monopole Wine Bar
through May 18
Monopole Wine Bar, Pasadena
Written by Eve Wood
I love discovering art in unexpected places, especially when the art enhances the overall experience of moving through a living, thriving city space. Lena Moross’ beautiful paintings of the strange bushes and shrubbery that exist in and around the Los Angeles landscape are both commemorative and oddly disconcerting. A transplant from Russia, Moross explained to me that when she came to California, she was transfixed by the arid and often highly manicured trees and bushes that have come to define the California experience; whether it be driving along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where the greenery punctuates street corners and appears like alien beings tethered to the landscape, or drifting along Pacific Coast Highway where a multitude of Palm Trees, pristine and tall, sway in the tropical ocean air, Moross was struck by their oddness and resilience.
Moross’ bushes appear like characters in a Eugene O’Neil play, bleak, yet endlessly captivating in their promise of fullness. Even her color palette of dilute gray/greens and suffused browns in stark contrast with the electrifying greens of the bushes in other paintings, reminds us of the variegated terrain that is the Los Angeles landscape. There is a definite nod to surrealism here, specifically De Chirico, whose darkening scenes often suggest impending doom, or at the very least a skewed mindset. There is also the sense that this is an unreliable landscape, a place that might at any moment shift into a completely unrecognizable terrain. “Two and a Cube” embodies this idea more than any others in the exhibition. The trees in the background dominate the image, yet it is the small white cube in the foreground that appears oddly off-kilter, raising questions like, “how did it get there, and more importantly, what is the cube’s relationship to the surrounding trees?”
Other images are more whimsical as is the case with “Two Bushes” where yet again the perspective is slightly tilted and off balance. Moross’ bushes stand like two old sentinels guarding the gates of Ishdor. The play of stark light makes them appear withered, blanched and blown out, yet within the darkness that surrounds them, they appear like strange beacons bathed in new light. While the larger paintings of bushes and trees are more geometric and less obviously narrative, Moross’ portraits of dogs wearing berets and colorful bowties, are fanciful in the best sense of the word. I can envision these dogs standing on a street corner in Paris, strutting their stuff. Here the line-work is spare, yet they have a cartoonish appearance without being garish or simplistic. There is a tangential relationship between the paintings and drawings and one can clearly see the cross over here, though the images of dogs are more overtly comical. Still, it is Moross’ playfulness that always wins the day!