Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Transformative Art of Monica Wyatt

Monica Wyatt: curiouser 

By Lorraine Heitzman


Monica Wyatt Installation at MorYork

Among the many sorts of artists there are in the world, those who are driven to collect, assemble, and re-invent are especially close to my heart. Monica Wyatt’s show, curiouser, set against Clare Graham’s art and collection (some might say obsession) is a great example of the type of work that finds inspiration in common, and not-so-common, objects. These artists share their delight and humor in transforming and elevating pedestrian materials into art. Their art stores are salvage yards, and they prefer to choose cast-offs instead of traditional art supplies.


Each rely on multiples to emphasize the nature of their raw materials and succeed in turning excess into something quite purposeful. This work also has an affinity to outsider art in the artists' ability and inclination to use that which has been overlooked or discarded. For the outsider artist, using found materials may be a necessity, but in both cases, art made from the flotsam and jetsam of our material world carries a sort of nobility at its core; because of the artists' vision, the elements of humble origins are metamorphosed into objects of beauty.


Wyatt, in this show, has really hit her stride. The hanging sculptures in the main space are constructed with plastic vials and possess a delicate beauty and geometry that seem simultaneously random and rooted in a methodical and mathematical precision. This dichotomy runs throughout her work as well as the contrasts between textures: sleek plastic versus unruly fibers, machined, metal bobbins versus organic forms. Her use of materials is sensitive, highlighting tactile qualities while sublimating their original, intended purposes. The abundance and repetition that Wyatt uses suggest biomorphic processes, growth, and cellular structures. One imagines hanging bird nests, air plants, DNA structures and microscopic images of all sorts. If they suggest scientific models and inquiries, they do so with a humanistic slant. There is nothing dry or particularly cerebral about Wyatt's sculptures, they are focused on visual and tactile pleasures, and to borrow a phrase from Churchill, they are "... a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". You can still see curiouser for one more week at MorYork Gallery and be pleasantly surprised by the mysteries within.  


Monica Wyatt: curiouser
MorYork Gallery, 4949 York Blvd. Highland Park 90042

Exhibit continues through May 7 2022

All photos by Lorraine Heitzman

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Gallery Tour: April Shows in Los Angeles

Shows are popping up like crocuses in the Spring, and they are not just full of promise, akin to the season; some are shows by artists who have already demonstrated their accomplishments in innumerable ways. A few of their exhibits in Los Angeles are on view now and worth your attention: Arlene Shechet at Vielmetter, Mary Little, exhibiting at the Gallery on the Rooftop at 1700 South Santa Fe, and Jacci Den Hartog at STARS. 


Romance Language   Arlene Shechet

Best Picture, Arlene Shechet’s show at Vielmetter, emphasizes the same virtuoso skill and sensitivity to materials as the sculptures she last showed in Los Angeles in 2019. The main difference, besides the addition of textiles, is a new lightness to the work. Where earlier sculptures were often rooted in a weighted sturdiness, and sometimes leaned towards a cubistic structure, this new body of work generally expresses a more playful, organic attitude, even as they maintain their solidity. 

Again, her ability to imaginatively select and juxtapose different materials is one of her greatest strengths. Each material maintains its peculiar attributes while seamlessly integrating with every element via the thoughtful choice of size, shape, color and placement. It is no easy task, she just makes it look easy. Snug intersections between wood and ceramics appear very natural, like the ways different fanciful patterns co-exist in tropical fish; otherworldly, unimaginable, yet absolutely real. Her highly textured glazes, too, seem like the result of natural forces, pocked and forged in volcanic heat. There is obvious delight in Shechet’s choices, and the deliberate decisions are for the viewer to notice and savor, thereby keeping the process of creation foremost in our minds. Some art is so seamless as to erase the artist’s hand and cause our attention to focus elsewhere, but in Shechet’s work, we are acutely aware of each decision. That seems counterintuitive because the sculptures look effortless and entirely appropriate, but our attention never strays far from thoughts of the creative process. In the end, the sculptures are elegant objects that one can appreciate for all their virtues, chiefly their tactile beauty, mystery and humor.

Altered State   Arlene Shechet

Tell All   Arlene Shechet
Punch Line  Arlene Shechet

Pulse and Powder   Arlene Shechet

Bright Sun Cloud   Arlene Shechet

Punctuation Arlene Shechet

Rosemary   Mary Little

In a quirky space atop the building that houses Vielmetter, Nicodim, and Gavlak, you can ride the elevator to the roof and find a wonderful, surprising show by textile artist, Mary Little. Both the Gallery on the Rooftop and the artist were unknown to me, and the discovery of both was a delightful surprise.

Ballynoe   Mary Little
On the day I visited, the skies were overcast and the grey clouds lent a beautiful light inside the small venue, ideal for her monochromatic work. Little’s wall hangings made of unbleached cotton canvas are very quiet, embodying a subtlety that is meditative but startling in their purity. The Lineage Series features eight of her new works, all possessing a pristine elegance. Despite their formalities, however, they are not pretentious; the humble nature of canvas keeps them simple, akin to the plain yet ultimately refined sensibilities of the Shakers. Some are pleated like Rosemary, looking like an idealized curtain, while another, Balligan is scored at intervals, puckered from the incisions. All are made from pedestrian materials that have been treated with an uncommon reverence. It reminds us of the potential beauty inherent in all objects and materials. Here, Mary Little has shown us, not only the beauty of her art, but also a way to see her materials through her austere vision.

Balligan    Mary Little



Alexander    Mary Little

Descent  Jacci Den Hartog

 Jacci Den Hartog condenses her interest in rivers and waterfalls into muscular artifacts glowing in iridescent colors. In Gilded Space, her new show at STARS, the rugged sculptures suggest the transmogrified hues of petrified wood and the rusty grit of iron ore. Each seem to distill the essence of natural, geologic forces, something Den Hartog has engaged with frequently in her past work. This grouping is less conceptual than some earlier sculptures where she was grappling with a way to express the movement of water, but it seems to have allowed her to go more deeply into the heart of her subjects’ material attributes. There is a concrete, fundamental quality here. 


Fluvial    Jacci Den Hartog

Drift   Jacci Den Hartog

In addition to the sculptures that fill the main gallery, there are also some watercolor paintings in an adjacent  room that are  insightful companions pieces. In a loose, expressionist manner, they are yet another way that Den Hartog interprets fluidity. By continually finding new ways to interpret the geologic forces that fascinate her, Den Hartog succeeds in making powerful work that seeks to make the illusive more tangible. While honing her craftsmanship with diverse materials, she expands her ability to communicate the fierce and emotional strength of nature, and the personification of a psychological resiliency.

Flow  Jacci Den Hartog

Arlene Shechet  Best Picture, Vielmetter Los Angeles ,March 26- May 14. 2022

Mary Little, Lineage, Gallery on the Rooftop, Through April 23, 2022

Jacci Den Hartog Gilded Space, STARS, April 2 - May 21, 2022

All photos by the author

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

To Change Something: The Work of Lea Feinstein

Each Minute

In her studio, surrounded by the work for her upcoming solo show, Lea Feinstein is immersed in the visceral, visual rhythms of letterforms. Her head is filled with lines of poetry committed to memory, both in her own words, and in those written by friends, family, and literary figures. These fragments of verse are the focus of a new series of expressionistic text-based paintings made for her exhibition, Pages, at Keystone Gallery. Using earlier work made on Tyvek as a substrate for her current paintings, Feinstein superimposes phrases in a simultaneous act of destruction and creation. 


Feinstein’s new paintings are a sort of personal reckoning between the past and present. While recently taking stock of her work, she impulsively decided to quit the diaphanous paintings of larger-than-life succulents that she had been working on for the past five years, ever since moving to Los Angeles from Palo Alto. Lacking the enthusiasm to continue painting succulents, she pivoted and returned to content she was intimately familiar with and always passionate about: the written word. If there is a manic quality to her studio practice now, perhaps it is  because she feels a sense of urgency, not only to express herself in this moment, but to synthesize all of her previous artistic endeavors into a new form. 


Her process is a psychological journey plumbed and shaped by words through the act of painting. The colors of the underlying paintings and the choice of poems determine her initial direction. Soon enough, the shapes of the letters themselves suggest imagery and bring layered meanings to mind. Words are physically layered upon each other in bold, indelicate lettering and strong colors, creating intentional and accidental associations that seep up and rise to the surface. To further emphasize this notion of layering, she displays several paintings on top of each other; sheaves of Tyvek are pinned to the wall and build up meanings like pages of a book. 


Just as her work is physically built upon a foundation from the past, it is also shaped by her lived experiences as an artist, educator and mother. While raising three sons, running a household and making her own art, her early text works made between 1985-1994 were often rooted in feminist content and form, along with ideas related to the Fluxus movement of the sixties and seventies. In the mid-nineties, Feinstein performed Laundry Line at Towson University in Maryland. She strung up undergarments printed with phrases lifted from Rumpelstiltskin, emphasizing and exposing patriarchal tropes in familiar fairy tales. In 2011, her installation of the same name was exhibited in San Francisco in Literati, and was recently included in Dream House, a publication edited by Cindy Rehm, honoring the 50th anniversary of Womanhouse. 


At the same time that she was exploring feminism through performances during her years teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she made other text-based works. Bra Stories is an accordion-style book that relates a coming-of-age story through intimate clothing. In an early text experiment from 1989, Feinstein repeatedly photocopied a cash register receipt of cleaning products onto clear acetate sheets. The dot-matrix printer continually degraded the type, making the words illegible. Stacked, the imagery is abstract and the original receipt is obscured, but it created, as Feinstein recalled, “a sedimentary architecture, rising up.”


Fast forward to her current work and we find her building up surfaces again, but this time transforming words with paint. There is more physicality to the surface of her paintings than previous text-based works allowed, yet at the same time, the words are inscrutable, oftentimes flipped upside down to make them illegible so that they can only be read as shapes. Since the viewer doesn’t have immediate access to the source material, the experience is limited to formal aspects of the text. Feinstein’s emotional reactions and associations expressed through paint are the conduits that convey meaning and ultimately supplant the poems. 


Nowadays themes of death and rebirth recur in different guises throughout her work. Some days she finds herself reciting favorite stanzas and puts those to paper, only later to understand their significance to her present life, as in the case of Cockle, and several of her smaller paintings on panel: MercyWasabi, and Camping. Feinstein created the paintings after she found herself singing some of Ophelia’s mournful songs from Hamlet, including the phrase “He is dead and gone”. Afterwards, in an experience she claims was a type of exorcism, she realized the paintings were a lament for her brother, who had recently died. She has also used two poems by Nan Cohen, a friend and published poet who lives in Los Angeles. They met while Cohen was a Stegner fellow at Stanford and Feinstein enrolled in her poetry class. In Pages there are two paintings that are derived from Cohen’s poems, Loss, and Grow. Feinstein and Cohen investigate the same themes from their separate vantage points, with one focusing more on the visual aspects of the words, and the other concerned with the sounds they create.


Forged by poetry and enriched by her past, Feinstein is turning a page as she navigates her future and embraces change. The breadth of her creative life has included bookmaking, performances, installations, paintings, sculptures, art criticism, and poetry. It is informed not only by the arts, but also by meaningful connections with family and friends. Through it all, Feinstein remains consistently optimistic. In Pages, the words she writes may be illegible, but the urge to communicate is vivid and passionate. 




Pages, New Work by Lea Feinstein

Keystone Gallery, 338 South Avenue 16, Los Angeles, CA  90031

March 17 – April 4, 2022

Opening reception Saturday, March 19, 4-7 


Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Return of the Frieze Fair

After a year’s absence, Frieze returned, not to the Paramount lot where the previous two fairs were held, but to a tent that was, in real estate parlance, Beverly Hilton adjacent. It was business as usual. From February 17-20, collectors collected, museums acquired, galleries sold, and celebrities spotted. Sales upwards of a million dollars for individual works were reported, and post fair stats boasted vigorous sales, including sold-out booths, the gold standard. Focus LA, a selection of local emerging galleries, also reported hefty stats. 


So, how was the art?  Of course, there was great art to be seen, and yet fairs do not make it easy, in fact, the amount of visual stimulation makes it difficult to merely survive the experience. For those who attend the fair as art enthusiasts, (as opposed to collectors or gallerists), a better coping strategy is to adjust your expectations and limit your time; You don't have to see everything. It is widely known that you can always follow up at any local gallery after the fair, especially midweek, when you will have the art all to yourself. 

 If you looked beyond the well-known show stoppers, the Kenny Scharfs at Jeffrey Dietch, 
Kenny Scharf
the Chris Burden gazebo, the Anish Kapoors, there were gems to be found. I appreciated the new discoveries and the galleries that have the temerity to show older work, a respite that allows for some breathing space between the often ambitious and in-your-face contemporary sensibilities. In this category, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery was a goldmine, focusing on work that complimented recent museum shows in Los Angeles that featured Black artists.There were some excellent Charles White portraits, several small Bob Thompson paintings and dynamic paintings by Beauford Delaney.   

Beauford Delaney
Charles White

Bob Thompson

Bob Thompson
Beauford Delaney


In Focus LA,  Sarah Rosalena Brady at Garden was clever and curious, combining aspects of her indigenous roots to reimagine symbols and crafts using modern technology. 3-D printed sculptures were on exhibit, as well as weavings and gourds made of wax and resin. 
Sarah Rosalena Brady

Sarah Rosalena Brady

At Luis de Jesus, featured work by Rodrigo Valenzuela was installed against a grid of the artist's making. The fantastical black and white photographs of industrial machines shared a little of Joel Peter Witkin's reverence for the staged image, along with a level of craftmanship that elevates his subjects.

Rodrigo Valenzuela

Rodrigo Valenzuela


Sometimes, work from the past speaks to you.  This Alan Saret stainless steel wall sculpture at Karma was a lovely, quiet discovery.  Similarly, a delicate Lee Bontecue at Mark Selwyn stopped me in my tracks.

Alan Saret


Lee Bontecue

At LA's Chateau Shatto, these two Helen Johnson paintings on hanging canvas were impressive. Other noteworthy art, but in no particularly order, follows:

Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson




Simone Leigh at Matthew Marks
Elliott Hundley (detail)

Elliott Hundley, Regen Projects

Tony Lewis, Blum & Poe

Eleonore Koch, Mendes Wood
Francis Offman, Herald St.