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Lake (#96), 1998
Oil on Panel, 11 1/4" x 12 1/2"
© Louise LeBourgeois

Louise LeBourgeois and Angela Schlaud: New Works
November 20 through December 19, 1998

Lyons Wier Gallery
300 West Superior
Chicago, IL

The interesting thing that brought me to this exhibit, were the announcement cards. Lyons Wier gallery often will advertise two separate shows for the same date and gallery space. This pairing intrigued me specifically because it combined the mannerist-like landscapes of Louise LeBourgeois with the abstracts of Angela Schlaud. Once I visited the gallery and spoke with the artists, I found the pairing to be well-thought-out. Both artists pay attention to surface and pattern; they are both young; and they are both very serious about their work, and seem to be at the same stage in their artistic developments.

Louise LeBourgeois' small fantasy and realist landscapes are meditations in paint. Immediately, they have a sense of the surreal, yet these are not dreamlike as in a sleeping dream. Like a day-dream, or like Caspar David Friedrich, they are almost romantic and symbolic, but there are elements of Rene Magritte. With references to large expanses, the prairie, hills, and plowed fields, there are also nods to Grant Wood and other midwestern prairie artists, too.

Cloth (#108), 1998
Oil on Panel, 11" x 10"
© Louise LeBourgeois

Cloth (#108), for example, contains a large, expansive field of cut grass. In the foreground lies a red cloth, like a picnic blanket laid on the ground. There are creases in the cloth as if someone has just set it down. In the distance are two trees next to each other, in size and shape similar to two people standing next to each other, but these are trees, not people. There is a lot of untold story in this painting that we are allowed to guess at, but there are no conclusions to be drawn. A large portion of the painting is taken by the sky of luminous, stormy clouds. Is the sky a suggestion of what has occured or is about to occur?

Similarly, in Fork (#110), we see a tree in the near foreground, but we don't see its leaves, just its trunk and two branches. A path in a grassy background cuts through the painting. Two cypress or yew-like trees are also in the background to the right. A stormy, cold-looking sky watches over the scene. There is a lot of tension in this painting, yet the viewer does not have to be concerned. What is normally considered a "fork" you might expect to be in the road, but there is no fork in the road here. The tree in the foreground has a fork in its branching. Is that to what the viewer is being referred?

Fork (#110), 1998
Oil on Panel, 8" x 13"
© Louise LeBourgeois

Ms. LeBourgeois says her paintings are based on real places she's been, but that she works from inspiration and memory, often taking elements of these places for her paintings. The influences of various landscapes here are strong, but you do feel something else coming out of her paintings: a meditative feeling of calm and tension at once like a psychological test, and completely biased to the viewer's predisposition.

Likewise, her paintings of Lake Michigan have a calming effect despite the angry skies and choppy water. There is nothing else in the painting except the expanse of water and sky. Everything about these paintings begs to question the viewers to become introspective and examine themselves in relation to the scenes before them.

Hill (#84), 1998
Oil on Panel, 7 1/2" x 9"
© Louise LeBourgeois

All of Louise's paintings are well-executed in an almost mannerist style in oil on wood panels using a heavy oil-rich medium to give each piece a very rich, smooth, shiny surface. The brushstrokes are light, and her skies are very luminous and soft. Each sky is almost a painting in itself because of the attention to detail and mood. It's no wonder her lake paintings are just the sky and the lake: Louise has mastered well how to create just the right lighting and conditions for whatever type of weather she wishes to represent. I wasn't as terribly impressed by the overall glossy surface of her paintings as I was with the painting technique to acquire those skies and water.

Angela Schlaud's work similarly uses surface as part of the painting technique, however, more subtly. This exhibit consists of both oil and watercolors, and Ms. Schlaud shows that she can adeptly manipulate both while retaining consistency between them. Colors, shapes, and scribbles on the surfaces are all very consistent but at the same time, take advantage of the different qualities of each medium.

Water-worn, 1998
Watercolor, graphite and charcoal
12" x 9"
© Angela Schlaud

There are hints of Japanese screens, Chinese Watercolors, and Helen Frankenthaler all at once. Colors drip and meld together. Complementary and contrasting colors coexist in the same painting without disagreement. Scribbles and blotches of paint all have similar imagery and cohesion.

Interestingly, Ms. Schlaud's work extracts different imagery depending on the viewer's momentary disposition. Using organic shapes and lines, all sorts of unintended imagery appears in her paintings. I experienced this phenomenon when I asked Ms. Schlaud about one work in particular. Water-worn appears to have an Egon-Schiele-esque figure drawn in white charcoal. However, Ms. Schlaud assured me that no intention exists and she herself never planned for a figure to appear in the painting. Everyone sees something different and swears they see very precise imagery that is completely unintentional.

Palimpsest, 1998
Watercolor, graphite and charcoal
16" x 12"
© Angela Schlaud

There are lots of images in Ms. Schlaud's work one may see: circular blotches of color in organic strings representative of bacilli or intestines, or strings of flower petals. There are bottles, boulders, rocks, heads, spilling liquids, figures, strings, or piles of "stuff." Colors are bright and subdued all on the same canvas. Blends of some paints give an allusion to texture.

These works are very deliberate in their execution. Ms. Schlaud states that each one can take weeks or months to complete. There must be waiting periods for paint layers to dry, for example, and the surface is ready to draw on. This of course, adds a level of thought to the process rather than just spitting out one work after another.

Wake, 1998
Oil on Canvas, 24" x 22"
© Angela Schlaud

Non-representational and non-objective art is perhaps the most difficult type of art to assess simply because it is usually an emotional outpouring of the artist, and usually can only truly mean something to the artist. Rarely does non-representational art speak to a large audience. Ms. Schlaud, on the otherhand, has shown us a branch of this genre where shape, form, and color are formulas that while they are expressive of an individual, can also affect others and still be an effective tool for expression.

Professors and art teachers who grew up in the 60's often extolled the values non-representational and non-objective art upon their students, when Jackson Pollack reigned. Nowadays, "conceptualism" and its branches have permeated modern art and non-objective and non-representational art seems to be taking a step back. But this is due to the misunderstanding of the genre, and above all, it can be used as a cover-up for lack of talent.

Blue Cabbage, 1998
Watercolor and graphite
14" x 10"
© Angela Schlaud

Angela Schlaud's work is the opposite of the second-rate non-objective, non-representational art we are so accustomed to seeing. It's an intelligent look at the process whose impressions have sometimes varied but very distinct affects.

There is a catalog available of Ms. Schlaud's work through Lyons Wier Gallery with a well-written essay on Ms. Schlaud's paintings and drawings by Fred Camper. The show is only up until the 19th of December, so while you're out shopping for your Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah goodies, be sure to take a break from the hustle and bustle and go see this show. If you can't make it to the show in time, both artists are represented by Lyon's Wier who will be able to assist you. You just might want to purchase one of these works for a present.

--Richard Donagrandi

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