Contemporary Soliloquies on the Natural World

Margaret Nielsen 2002 Oil on panel 14" x 11" Courtesy of Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
Margaret Nielsen
Oil on panel 14″ x 11″
Courtesy of Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

From November 18, 2005 to January 21, 2006

Contemporary Soliloquies on the Natural World presents the work of five established Los Angeles artists. Although exhibited as a group, Karen Carson, Merion Estes, Constance Mallinson, Margaret Nielsen, and Takako Yamaguchi expose their highly personal views of the natural world; each gallery space allows one artist to reveal her individual voice and signature style in depth. Ensemble, they assert that our current notion of nature is based on pre-packaged models offered to us by media representations, ecological threats, urban planning, parks and leisure amenities, and scientific explanations rather than on personal experience and observation. They reveal those models as merely simulations of the natural world. The artists’ natural, unnatural, and supernatural scapes are profound, historically oriented meditations on nature and our times. Their soliloquies are not mere monologues of unspoken reflections on their views of the natural world, but participate in an ongoing global and universal dialogue.

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In the Center Gallery, Yamaguchi’s GenesisApocalypscapes scrutinize the dialectical dynamics of order and chaos, creation and destruction of the world paradigmatically and mythically by water and fire, and historically at the endlessly busy hands of the forces of weather. Estes’s SeaEarthSkyscapes, exhibited in the West Gallery, reveal the complex universe–at once natural and abstract, physical and spiritual–of earth’s damaged ecology. Carson’s Windscapes in the East Gallery examine the kinematics of the elemental forces of primal nature, presenting simultaneously the wind’s primordial and contemporary presence on the western American landscape. In the Cosmoscapes on view in the E.C. and D.B. Goodstein Foundation Reading Room, Nielsen departs from earth’s contaminated northwoods environment in search of an unspoiled, cosmic regeneration. Finally, Mallinson’s Globescapes, in the Hertha and Walter Klinger Gallery, Quinn Wing, besides extending the local and national tradition of the landscape to encompass global references, denounce the threats of industrial globalization and the commodification of the natural world by the advertising industry.

Takako Yamaguchi

b. 1952, Okayama, Japan; B.A., Bates College, Lewiston, ME; M.F.A., University of California, Santa Barbara.

Japanese-born artist Takako Yamaguchi masterfully fuses Eastern and Western aesthetics, traditional Japanese techniques and contemporary western expressions, influences ranging from kimonos fabric design to nineteenth-century European Romantic landscapes and seascapes. The artist’s nature-based paintings metamorphose earth’s topography–islands, clouds, sky, streams, rain, land and sea–into a vocabulary of abstractions and patterns, blurring all meteorological, geographical, and chronological references. Yamaguchi describes her current paintings as focusing on the dialectic of order and chaos competing interpretations of the world that see it as either an organic whole breaking violently into parts or as a wild and primitive place being civilized into an undifferentiated whole.The artist has characterized the underlying thematic vision in her art as order/chaos, creation/destruction, stasis/dynamism a conception of a world flying apart and coming together endlessly without definitive origin or conclusive end. Historical, biblical, and phenomenological references abound in Yamaguchi’s paintings. The fundamental image in the GenesisApocalypscapes is centered on the earthly Deluge in unending stages of flooding and drying out. Yamaguchi has blended the cyclical submersion and recovery of land from the sea with the pattern of earth’s destruction by fire. Water and fire are visual referents for an unstable world history. They refuse to validate a comforting sense of meaning and scope to the simultaneous natural dissipation and renewal of energy at work in the universe.

Merion Estes

b. 1938, Salt Lake City, UT; B.F.A., University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; M.F.A., University of Boulder, CO.

Merion Estes’s at once natural and abstract nature-based paintings reveal multi-layered collages of tie-dye and African-inspired fabrics, an exuberant palette of bright color fields with paint spots and drips, and serial configurations of flora and fauna. Significant influences in the artist’s work include the Jugendstil/Art Nouveau motifs of Gustav Klimt, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard. Estes indirectly addresses earth’s damaged ecology, and denounces humanity’s depletion and exploitation of earth’s cornucopia. Duality characterizes the SeaEarthSkyscapes: the artist’s vocabulary of abstract cellular, animal, vegetable, and mineral forms underscore the unknown and the unexpected that lurk beneath the familiar rooms and routines of life. A sinuous file of fish becomes a serpent. Plankton algae feeding one level of the food chain become lethal to another level. The annual red tides affecting both California and New England, and resulting in massive death of fish and the poisoning of shellfish, thus posing a threat to human consumption, is a subject Estes tackles in her work. The artist never fails to remind us that a dark undercurrent of existence and death lurking at lower depths counterbalances the fecund Edenic beauty of the natural world. The ideal conception of an otherwise perfect and beautiful world is plagued with imperfections, contradictions, and uncertainties. A century of teeming populations and technological and industrial excesses have disturbed the fragile and delicate balance of the natural world’s ecosystem. Thus does Estes probe the current questionings and uncertainties of nature’s health, and earth’s and the universe’s sustainability.

Karen Carson

b. 1943, Corvallis, OR; B.A., University of Oregon; Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA; M.F.A., University of California, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles and Montana based artist Karen Carson mentions both Impressionist and Expressionist influences, Claude Monet and Jackson Pollock, when referring to her landscapes executed on silk. Carson’s painting series of Fire, Wind and (Projected) Rain are responsive to the American western environment, “its Rocky Mountain forests, giant redwood glades, semi-arid plains, its sudden winds, fires, and downpours of rain. The artist’s immediate observations of the role and place of the elements in nature, fire, wind and rain–all ingredients historically important to the vitality of the region” reveal at one level of reference the unpredictable havoc of nature’s sudden faults and foibles on one’s daily life. Otherwise, the Wind paintings exhibited here minimize the temporal definition, although some cognizance of the seasons is visible. The artist departs from surface appearances in the reach for a more abstract measure of reality, and a schematizing of the elemental and aesthetic. Painted framing of the scenes with freezes of folk, antique, and native motifs are reminders of the artistry that created them. However, Carson’s depictions of the awesome kinematics of the primal energy, and almost divine capriciousness, of the wind are less about the weather or the wilderness per se than they are about the way art can transfigure the natural scene into an emblem of archetypal reality. The Wind series balances the perspective of an imagined past untainted by mindscaping agendas, and the idea of a witnessed present and future scorched and parched by overpopulated civilizations. They assert an ageless pre-science, pre-civilization vision of the American west.

Margaret Nielsen

b. 1948, Edmonton, Canada; Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles; B.F.A., California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA; M.A., Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.

Canadian-born artist Margaret Nielsen’s Cosmoscapes are the logical outcome of two decades of painterly experiments in her coming to terms with the ravaged forests, lakes, and rivers of America. After depicting them both as ravaged and exploited by an indifferent civilization, or as City Hall-Chamber of Commerce promotional backdrops for the sale of America as a land of fantasy fulfillment–in a deconstruction of the nineteenth-century landscape tradition and Albert Bierstadt’s mythified West–Nielsen began to adapt her vocabulary to a cosmos series whose dimensions she is still exploring and adding to. Her signature forest and lake motifs are still present, but the beckoning and still untainted star-and-comet-filled skies are less personal, and metaphysically oriented statements. Nielsen embraces the life cycle of humankind in several of the Cosmoscapes: the complex cycle of generation, life, death, and regeneration implicit in nature’s seasonal transformations. The artist also hints at transcendence, immortality, eternity, and infinity, enigmatically pictured in her works. This cosmic venue seemingly offers escape from earth’s wasting environment into a pristine atmosphere, where the essential transfigurations of nature–of life, death, and regeneration, which the world’s environment finds increasingly unable to sustain can proceed without the disabling taint of twentieth- and twenty-first century disfiguring pollutions and ecological morbidities. Thus, to stress the symbolic dimension of these paintings, Nielsen’s shift in locale from the tarnished watershed of the American continent to an immeasurable, still to be surveyed, space animated by dots of star light represents less an iconic redirection of the landscape’s traditional focus on the earth’s natural environs and habitations than they are honest efforts to keep alive the memory of a nature that once thrived and, taking the Phoenix myth as a token, that can, and will, renew itself.

Constance Mallinson

b. 1948, Washington, D.C.; B.F.A., University of Georgia, Athens.

Constance Mallinson evokes such landscapists as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Cole, Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, and Caspar David Friedrich in relation to her art. Redefining the eighteenth-century Italian vedute tradition in her Globescapes, the artist ventures beyond the limited geographical, fragmented glimpses of specific palaces, localities, and spectacular natural sights to create her own encyclopedic, re-imagined, assemblage world-wide of places, peoples, landmarks, and tourist sites. Mallinson demonstrates the massive degree to which our knowledge and experience of nature is mediated through print, television and film images into a faux-reality. The artist’s most recent landscapes also incorporate the new century’s take on the health of the planet and its civilizations, balancing, in one instance, eastern and western parts of the globe, the exploiters and industrial Haves of the first world with the exploited and Have-nots of the third world. Mallinson defines the global crisis in stark terms of the exploitation and destruction of the world’s ecology in complicity with the Few’s maintenance of a good life, preservation of their lawns, and backyard pools, at the expense of all Others, and questions the reality of the natural world that each generation defines for itself. The artist revisits the nationalist and expansionist agenda of Bierstadt and other nineteenth-century Far West landscapists by way of imaginary landscapes that are ironic encyclopedic assemblages of images–social, cultural, architectural, historical, and geographical–depicting a globalized America or Americanized globe. Her wide-lens perspectives and overload of imagery squeezed onto a mural-like landscape become a metaphor for the pitfalls in human and international relations among the ethnic, national, and racial constituencies of the globe.