Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Laura Battle, through Dec 23rd

Lohin Geduld Gallery, 531 West 25th street

First, I should probably disclose the fact that Laura Battle was a professor of mine when I was an undergraduate, and was something of an inspiration to me as an artist. That said, her paintings have changed a great deal since I was her student, as any good artists work should. They do still have the same intricate, complex formal sensibilities that I remember. She also still exhibits the same intense fascination with geometry, and continues to make use of the grid, but in a very different way than was once the case .
Battle's current work employs a vocabulary of marks and forms that clearly reference old maps, graphs, and star charts. Not just in structure, but in their stained and distressed surfaces. I'm calling her a painter, but paint makes up only a small part of her media. She uses a variety of pencils and markers, as well as water and oil based pigment. While her use of color is very evocative, even the work on canvas could much more accurately be called drawing. In fact there seems to be many drawings within each individual work, usually superimposed on top of one another. Transparent lines criss cross and disappear into more opaque forms, referencing architectural blueprints, scientific charts, celestial maps, Aboriginal dream imagery, and occult diagrams. Each work is loaded with sprawling, and complex abstract imagery both scientific and spiritual. It's actually kind of confusing, and makes you wonder what all these sources of inspiration have to do with one another. The one thing that ties them together is that they're all forms of exploration into unknown or uncharted territory. Battle seems to be making an analogy between non objective abstract painting (drawing) and exploration into unknown worlds and lost civilizations. Or rather that she sees art is a form of both science and mystical exploration, and that the same spirit of intuitive wonder that fuels one also infuses the other.
The work is very beautiful, and Battle has developed an undeniably elegant mastery of mixing wet and dry medium. It's also quite remarkable that as dense and intricate as these paintings are, and as mechanical as most of the drawing is, they never seem tedious or labored in execution.  Sometimes though, there does seems to be a somewhat self consciously weathered beauty to these pieces.  Also, some of the forms that make up her vocabulary seem to be derived more for formal or aesthetic reasons than for symbolic associations.  But, as simply visual experiences they're quite stunning, and if you believe (as I do) that good art should allow you to see more the longer you look then you should really take a look at this.

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