Sugar-Coated is Bittersweet at Shockboxx
Shockboxx, Hermosa Beach
Through April 30, 2022
Written by Genie Davis
Sugar-Coated, at Shockboxx Gallery through the end of April, is a deeply personal show. Vivid colors splash and swirl against black backgrounds, and nearly hidden in those backgrounds are a darker black image of a daisy. The implication is that the viewer must peer into the abyss to see the beauty growing there, within these large-scale works.
Accompanying each vivid acrylic image, a haunting black and white photograph, the subject is the painter herself, MUKA, posed in a variety of positions, her face hidden beneath the mask of a patterned teddy bear head. The bear is significant in that MUKA has exhibited past works at the gallery featuring such a bear. The black and white photographic images were created by artist Drew Langer, and shape an edgily surreal, haunting pairing with MUKA’s paintings.
The resonant pairing with the photographic images takes us deeper into their origin. For example, the abstract floral painting of “Lonely at the Top” is matched with a black and white image from Langer of the same title, in which MUKA sits, bear-head propped against her hand, with a clutch of Louis Vuitton purses. Other photos include a moody view of her nude silhouette from behind, looking out a large downtown window, bear head on the ground; and an image of the artist drawing, shadows slicing across her body.
The photographs seem to embody the artist’s mood as evoked in the paintings. The series of works are each as wildly, beautifully alive as any flowers, and as haunted and haunting as any soul that has seen the dark of a lonely, devastating emotional night.
On the front room’s back wall, MUKA has written “I hope you bring me flowers” and “Love you,” the latter repeatedly. These site-specific markings are connected to the theme of the show, in which her multi-colored, neon-bright rainbow forms each bloom vibrantly within, or perhaps despite the dark.
The heart in “Nobody Came;” the egg-like shape, with a small cave, from which a black daisy blooms in “Untitled;” floral images in “Lonely at the Top,” “Might Delete Later,” “I’m Good,” and “Wish I was Here,” each contain something both powerful and heartbreaking to viewers, even before comprehending the exhibition’s backstory.
The darkness that trembles in this series is revealed and confronted in the gallery’s back room, where there are a series of small paintings with black backgrounds and nearly secret black daisies, each with abstract patterns of hot pink in the foreground.
Also in the backroom is a sculptural multi-colored teddy bear head, “XO” tattooed on side of its face, smiling, clad in a gown of sorts; the top of it is a velvety hot pink, followed by a waterfall of white canvas painted with the words “Love You.”
Across from this sculptural piece, there is a kind of altar, with a short essay written by the artist; bouquets of flowers; and a small metal trough containing individual daisies in multiple bright hues, which the artist distributed to opening night viewers.
Beneath the typed essay, Langer’s photograph, “Myself in Those Moments,” features MUKA lying in a tub, body covered with flowers, bear head masking her face, its mouth agape as if howling. And what that bear seems to say are the words to the typed essay, “I’m not Going to Sugar Coat It.” The essay is a perfect evocation of raw, intense emotion, as she castigates and forgives those who “missed…saving me from these fragile moments…” in which she exposed deep depression, a time when “I would have been the reason that I ended up dead that night.” She attests that she views the exhibition now not as undertaken in resentment or anger, but as a “mirror” to the depths of her soul.
Her longing to be truly seen, to be given flowers, to have someone say “Love you” is both poignant and fierce. She reveals that now she has “brought some flowers for myself,” and the viewer sees that every aspect of the exhibition embraces necessary, passionate, self-love.
The secret black daisy within each work is like a silent prayer, reminding the viewer that bright or dark, in the sunshine or midnight of the spirit, we are alive, resilient, and if we long for flowers and love, we must be generous enough to gift them to ourselves.
There’s no need to “sugar coat” this untitled series of works – they are true and bittersweet.