A Walk Through the Woods in Los Angeles
The Loft at Liz’s, Los Angeles
through June 17
By Lorraine Heitzman
In Forest Bathing, the current version of the annual nature show at The Loft at Liz’s, curator Betty Ann Brown, in collaboration with Liz Gordon, selected seventeen artists who use trees as the subject of their work. The term “forest bathing” addresses the Japanese concept and practice of seeking solace in the woods for physical, mental and spiritual health. The show reflects not only the unique aesthetic of each artist, but also makes a clear case for the multiple ways in which nature and art are restorative. Inextricably bound together, the forces of nature and art in Forest Bathing provide the viewer with an entrancing experience.
Brown has scattered artworks around the gallery much like a farmer sowing a variety of seeds to insure biodiversity. Marthe Aponte, Chenhung Chen, Bibi Davidson, Barbara Edelstein, Susan Feldman & Dave Lovejoy, Renee Fox, Maria Greenshields-Ziman, Hermine Harman, Joanne Julian, Sant Khalsa, Alberto Mesirca, Hung Viet Nguyen, Samuelle Richardson, Catherine Ruane, Jill Sykes and Linda Vallejo each tackle the subject with a different emphasis; some explore the infinite variations of plants in almost scientific detail, while others convey spiritual, or cathartic experiences that are more decorative.
Catherine Ruane straddles both ends of the spectrum in her stunning, carefully observed drawing that is expressionistic as well as exacting. In “Memory Tree” she reveals the life force of the palm tree, framing the image tightly and showing only the messy fronds in an abstract, complex close-up. The drawing is powerfully rendered in charcoal on paper, and despite the convincing illusion, is actually very loose and gestural. The immediacy of the tree elicits an emotional response rather than just a cerebral appreciation of Ruane’s technical competence. In this way her lyrical and gutsy drawing embraces both aspects, and that dichotomy serves her well.
Marthe Aponte is in the darkened Projects Room with a series of works on paper that use rear lighting to illuminate delicately pierced images of trees and feminine forms. Her “Sacred Trees” series hang off the wall on light boxes where the lighting brings the intricate work to life. The line quality is reminiscent of fine needlework, Persian miniatures or illuminated manuscripts. A few of these framed pieces have embroidered details, so the effect is very decorative but masterful, like a Fabergé egg. As a counterpoint to these delicately crafted works, a large installation of a Joshua tree flanked by two goddess-like figures occupies the back wall. It is bigger in both scale and ambition than the framed pieces and emphasizes her range, perhaps pointing to a new direction in her work. Aponte is much looser with the Joshua tree, making it a powerful counterpoint to her other series, and like Ruane, she presents nature as a visceral experience that is mysterious and vital.
At first glance, Hung Viet Nguyen’s paintings of heavily textured trees set against minimal backgrounds appear to be carved or burned into wood. Instead, the striated bark is created with thickly applied paint and this impasto technique creates tremendous visual interest and character. Using straightforward compositions, simple forms and the limited palette of ochers and browns, Nguyen paints a desolate environment that is reminiscent of the Western landscapes of Georgia O’Keeffe. Despite the lack of foliage, these trees project a quiet resiliency and have an iconic quality that commands our attention.
Susan Feldman and Dave Lovejoy have utilized the shallow niche above the stairwell to great effect, their work basking in a complex glow from direct and indirect lighting. Feldman contributes her usual panoply of sticks bound together with strings, but in this collaboration with Lovejoy, the work has greater depth and richness than in the past. “Out of the Woods” incorporates multiple planes, textures and patterns in a heady mix of materials that looks like an over-exuberant diorama from a natural history museum. Scale, depth, interiors and exteriors are juxtaposed skillfully, but the only distraction is the framing device that surrounds the work. Altogether, though, it is a very pleasing jumble of trees in their natural habitat interwoven with man-made systems and applications.
There are too many fine works to detail here; each artist adds to this forest in personal, riveting ways. While some art is more conducive to meditative states than others, they all are worthy of contemplation, which makes this trip to Forest Bathing a rewarding walk through the woods.