Lia Halloran: The Sun Burns My Eyes Like Moons
Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles
through August 14, 2021
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
With the majestic radiance of stained glass windows, the cosmic imagery of planetarium ceiling murals, the fractal arabesques of primordial soup, and the precise geometrical armatures of ancient architectural motifs, a suite of four cyanotypes at monumental scale by Lia Halloran — actually two cyanotypes and their corresponding 1:1 scale hand-painted negatives — are made both by and about the power of the sun.
Cyanotypes are created by exposing paper coated with photo-reactive chemicals directly to sunlight; but in Halloran’s work, capturing the rays of the sun as a material in her technique is only one aspect — the imagery and symbolism present in the compositions is furthermore about rendering the sun itself. Her images derivative of the symmetrical progressions of solar eclipses were made by harnessing the sun’s own rays, so that what results is both a direct dynamic embodiment and an affecting allegorical narrative at the same time.
All of this is really fascinating stuff, especially when you get into the presence of symbols and images from Egyptian sun temples and the notations from solar eclipse studies across civilizations and millenniums — some of which is found as close at hand as Pasadena and the architecture and library holdings of the Mt. Wilson Observatory and Hale Solar Laboratory. Built in 1924 which in a place and a time of spiritual and scientific quests famously overlapping, the Hale in particular is festooned with Egyptological symbols, many of which are included as detailed flourishes in Halloran’s compositions. It’s no wonder the works generate the sublime atmosphere of temple architecture and appear to have been executed with ritual, even spiritual intention; one feels such vibrations in their presence.
The distinctive blue of images developed in the cyanotype process lend photographs made this way a character of painting, especially at this scale (119 x 300 inches). But Halloran actually does embellish both the negative and the prints with hand-painted pigment, strands of vibrant color and deep, rich black, further blurring the aesthetic boundary between painting, drawing, and photography. The negatives are black where the positives are blue, but Halloran has also augmented those works with radiant blue auras in corresponding places, enhancing the conjoined polarity of the pairs while also creating each one as unique unto itself. There’s a lot of that kind of alchemy and sacred math at work in these pieces, of the sort that their formulas and glyphs reference.
Halloran’s art historical ancestors from the world of painting offer a hybrid of hard edge and expressionist abstraction; but it’s from the world of photography and ancient, even pagan archeology and science that her works get their dramatic flair. The overwhelming physicality of the pieces coupled with the elusive energy of the materials and processes, and the esoteric dimensions of specific planetary and meteorological phenomena — all of it bounces around with a sense of wonder at the sheer accomplishment of them, even as one senses other, larger forces are also at work.
Luis De Jesus
1110 Mateo St., Los Angeles, 90021