A Haunting Family Reunion at BG Gallery
bg Gallery, santa monica
through October 4, 2021
Written by Genie Davis
Through October 4th at BG Gallery in Santa Monica, artist Nancy Larrew’s first solo show is a family affair. Exploring the complexities and history of family, her Family Reunion is a series of delicate connections, of passionate and perhaps hidden pasts, of the tough ties that bind, and links remembered and forgotten.
The heart of the exhibition is an installation of 256 figures that represent the multiple generations through whose existence her own parents, and Larrew herself, came to be. The figures are facing the viewer, standing at attention across the gallery floor, the artist gives us a living history (herself) and a still-alive (through her, through art, through the process of creation both physical and spiritual) society – her family.
We each have one, though we may wish to deny some of its members, or some aspect of our past, or wish we knew more about both or that we had sprung from another. Larrew examines both the universal elements of the family, and the personal: the mystery and straightforward science; the tragic ghosts and the connected gladness.
She examines elements of connection and alienation in her own family, and in everyone’s family, a part of the human family itself. There is a graceful shadow behind each of these works, as is immediately visually potent from the very real shadow cast by the pale tree standing watch over the many figures of “Roots.”
The tree – a true family tree – reaches out toward the monochromatic figures fanning out beneath it with its sculptural roots of white string. Around these roots, draped protectively, is a section of a quilt created by one of the artist’s grandmothers.
The figures are themselves coupled as pairs, from whom another generation arises. While the small sculptures are singular in color, their appearance is individualized with facial features. They are poignant and monumental, and their experience, their being, their lives, are both simplified and exemplified. These lives lead, through will or chance, to their own existence as depicted by the artist-creator they themselves created. It is the ultimate, Meta act of creation.
While “Roots” is the largest work in Family Reunion, other pieces are equally powerful. “Family Gallery” gives viewers a personal insight into the nurturing relationship between Larrew herself, her mother, and her three siblings, replete with dollhouse-sized replicas of the siblings’ real artworks, being examined by their mother within a rectangular bird cage. Mama herself has become a lively, crowned pink bird. Viewers can manipulate a mechanical crank to move Mama Bird around this “Family Gallery” space.
If “Family Gallery” has a sense of brightness – the flight of creativity is something this pink bird understands – other works have a more shadowy cast. The illuminated blue of “Heirloom” and its strands of DNA shape the word “trauma.” This could be biological trauma or personal, or both. Either way the somewhat ghostly quality of the blue light in this work haunts the viewer. It is easy to become immersed in this work personally – as surely, we all must be with its meaning – through its network of infinity mirrors reflecting ourselves as well as the past of the artist.
While the ghosts inherent in “Heirloom” are embedded in our genetic code, the ghosts in “Family Baggage” are both more personal and heavier. Here printed shopping bags sport vintage photographs of Larrew’s family. This is physical baggage and emotional baggage rolled into one carry-all; it evokes the weight of memory and each person’s own personally born weights.
Suspended from the wall, Larrew’s “U5b2” uses small sculptural human figures similar to those in “Roots,” but here colored beige, white, and black as they ride in a mythical red boat, washing up on an unseen sea of humanity. The boat stands for a journey both biological and Biblical, as it traces the origins of our species. The epic nature of this journey – and the uncertain destination ahead – is also haunting.
The artist’s large painted work, “Dancing with Ghosts” continues that sense of the supernatural. Here are blurred memories and people, running together like the sluice of water in a rainstorm, causing cumulative effect from each individual mark. The diminutive series of “Little Ghosts” paintings, with their strangely luminous palette, indicate both the otherworldly realm from which they spring, and their visceral heritage, carried within us.
And possibly the most ghostly of all are the hidden “Secrets” in an eerie dollhouse, lit from within in shifting colored light. The house is weathered yet brightly trimmed in red; the windows are cloudy, mostly obscuring the figures inside from direct recognition. And yet we all know of them, our secret selves, our pasts, our inscrutable heritage, traumas, relationships, dreams, and sins. It is a beautifully evocative, sorrowful piece.
Family Reunion is a powerful, elegiac, and simultaneously triumphant exhibition, bearing multi-generational weight with grace and grandeur, floating around us and within us.
BG Gallery is located in Bergamot Station at 2525 Michigan Ave #A2, Santa Monica.