Choices of Medium and Message
“I can control my destiny, but not my fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street. I believe we all have the choice as to whether we fulfill our destiny, but our fate is sealed.” ~Paulo Coelho
“Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.” ~Ayn Rand
Quotidian Gallery, Los Angeles
through October 27
Written by Betty Brown
Antigone, currently at jill moniz’s Quotidian Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles, addresses the issue of choice, and how it shapes artistic outcomes. The title is taken from Greek mythology: It refers to the daughter of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta, who appears in several of Sophocles’ plays as well as in fragments of one by Euripides. Antigone behaves with courage and honor–but she is doomed, forsaken by the gods, and hangs herself to avoid further suffering. Today’s artists are not destined to such tragic ends–but they do reap the consequences of the aesthetic choices that determine their practice.
The exhibition features works by eight remarkable artists: Marthe Aponte, Lorraine Bubar, Barbara Kolo, Lilah Lutes, Victoria May, Blue McRight, Lena Moross and Joan Wulf. They employ diverse materials–from fabric to fire, medical tape to vintage brass nozzles–and range from narrative figuration to formalist abstraction to conceptual challenges of traditional ideas about what art is.
Marthe Aponte uses picote, a traditional French folk art involving holes pierced into the surface of paper. She creates mesmerizing depictions of lace-like flowers and elegant abstract shapes, all decoratively embellished with tiny pierced dots and curling arabesques. Aponte’s Mashrabiya (2018) is particularly stunning. Named after an Islamic architectural element, it situates the artist’s elegant designs inside pointed arch, recalling the opening to an iwan niche in the courtyard of a mosque.
Rather than pierce decorative holes into the surface of paper, Lorrain Bubar cuts it and uses the tiny scissored pieces like mosaic tesserae. Bubar’s Spring Awakening (2019) is a large triptych of colorful cut paper trees. She is intrigued by the fact that paper cutting is an honored art form in many different cultures, from China to Israel to Mexico. Her Spring Awakening resembles stained glass designs by William Morris, one of the founding members of the British Art & Crafts Movement in the 19th century. Morris’s wallpaper and fabric designs have the same dense decorative profusion and insistent two-dimensionality seen in Bubar’s triptych.
Barbara Kolo’s Manifestation II (2018) presents a veil of silvery rain falling from shimmering grey clouds. Kolo’s large acrylic on canvas composition recalls depictions of rain in Asian painting and printmaking. Think of Chinese artist Chiang Lee or the Japanese Ukiyo-e master of Utagawa Hiroshige. Like the works of her Asian artistic predecessors, Kolo’s Manifestation II is both haunting and calmly meditative.
Lilah Lutes’s translucent wall hangings juxtapose sections of white medical tape with patchwork passages of found photographs, pages torn out of printed books, and scribbled fragments of text. Her four mixed media pieces are suspended from the gallery ceiling, allowing the ambient light to pierce their translucent surfaces. Lutes’s unique combination of collaged materials, and the fact that she often sews torn sections together much like doctors stitch up lesions, establishes a parallel between her rectangular paper tapestries and wounded bodies repaired with bandages. The artist writes of the tedious nature of sewing and the undeniable “relationship between memories and the vessels that carry them.” Lutes also intends for her work to refer to deterioration and despair, fragility, time and decay. (As an aside, it should be noted that Lutes is probably the youngest artist in the group, having received her BFA from USC just last year.)
Victoria May’s Materials flow management (2013) stacks found and treated fabrics, blankets, repurposed clothing, as well as a tire inner tube to create an irregular rectangular relief that reveals the tensions between what she calls “industrial functionality” and accidental beauty. May explores dichotomies like delicate/strong and seduce/repel. The nature/culture binary is also evokes as the irregular layers refer to both geological and social strata, with the distressed fabrics signaling homelessness and poverty.
Blue McRight’s Siren (2014) is a room-sized sculpture created by wrapping a found tree with blue thread and adding vintage brass nozzles as “finials” on each branch. This week, as millions of people worldwide march to call our attention to global climate change, McRight points to water and its lack, which she considers a key environmental issue. A self-described “lover of wilderness living in a major city,” the artist also addresses the conflict, anxiety and humor in the interface between the urban and natural worlds.
Like many who consider boxing a combat sport based on violent conflict and hyperbolic individualism, Lena Moross was stunned to discover that supportive communities are often housed in boxing gyms. Her large (120″ x 90″) painting of a boxing ring, In the Sea of Love (2019), combines what she calls the “unexpected visual aesthetic” of an athletic club with her insights about it being a place that, beyond the expected physical workout, also provides emotional connection and cooperative community. On the lower right-hand corner of Sea of Love is a beautiful young woman who seems to invite us into the artist’s three panels. The girl recalls the elegant angel in the lower right of Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (1483-86), who points towards the Christ child (i.e., the iconographic center of his painting.) Unlike da Vinci who used oil paint to build subtle gradations of depth, Moross works in watercolor–that most difficult of media–outlining and embellishing her areas of sheer translucent pigment with calligraphic ink lines.
Joan Wulf paints with the natural elements, most particularly fire. Smoky “flames,” limned with carbon soot, crawl up the tall white scroll of her Zephyr (2017). She also exhibits two abstract images of circles inscribed in squares: Gape with Square (2017) and Black Hole with Square (2017). Wulf created both with her preferred medium of fire, adding metal and pigment to the 38″ x 38″ canvases. Like McRight, Wulf explores environmental issues. Like Lute and May, she deploys “non-art” materials.
Their are many points of comparison and contrast between the works in Antigone, so spending time inside this gracefully curated exhibition is immensely satisfying. Strong works, smartly installed: the exhibition affords a uniquely rewarding art-viewing experience.