“Like that, but merely air, / round and rising to cleave itself. / Phantasm, really, / projected for protection / from still air / by that which swirls inside it; / the rising column of essence / of castle.”
That’s from the poem The Castle Builds Herself from Grace Zabriskie’s 2010 book “Poems,” which featured her daughter Marion Lane’s painting Chasing the Rabbit on its cover. Although they work in different creative arenas (acting/writing/sculpture, and painting/design/advanced mathematics, respectively) the two have always had a close creative relationship–and the centrality of language to Lane’s abstract painting practice resonates with her mother’s forms of storytelling. Lane is acutely aware of how words serve as her “personal Rorschachs,” articulating the narratives that animate her fundamentally non-figurative work.
Her September show at LAUNCH Gallery was called “Adventures in Suntan Alley,” and the formal and metaphorical impact of language was more overt than ever. Certain titles suggested not only content, but clues to the meta-meaning, intentionality, and magical thinking behind them. In this case, that means geopolitics, which is the last thing you’d expect, unless you know her. Lane takes events in our government quite personally, and it happens that she was finishing (and titling) these paintings during the run-up to what looked like US military action in Syria. But then, in a story you won’t see on MSNBC, in the nick of time she stopped the bombing with these paintings. She believes that, and I believe her. Why not? Art has changed the world before.
Lane feels that art becomes infused with the maker’s energies. She mixes her own colors, going way beyond tertiary. She uses a range of pouring and pooling techniques to create individual shapes in unique patterns–circles, waves, whirlpools, stripes, drips, etc.–then waits for them to dry. Intuitively rather than strategically, she moves these elements around until she gets them where she wants. Only then does she see something in the picture that she names, as though she discovered it instead of making it herself. The thing about the relationship between the ambiguity and the articulation is that once someone (especially the artist) says they see a birthday cake or a vase of flowers or a sparrow in this swirling, bubbling, striated, hyper-chromatic image, there’s no going back. Pond Lake (all works 2013, except where noted), of acrylic on panel, nearly four feet square, is geological and verdant. It looks like an island, a beautiful, fanciful place, perhaps like Iceland. Viewers may well have discerned the scene without her nudge, but since it’s officially called Pond Lake and that’s what it looks like, they are thenceforth compelled to see land and water.
Cooler Heads (2012) is “the one that stopped the war.” A brown, drip-soaked ground, steely sky, and a molten-yet-icy blue and white amalgam like an iceberg are neatly compartmentalized yet totally unbounded, balanced but asymmetrical. The main shape at the central position in Syria looks like the continental United States being weighed down by Florida, Arizona and Texas. The country’s red and rusty heart is literally bleeding, yet it floats aloft like a satellite. Theoretical Dream Drone generates independent light and expansive space inside the picture plane, with a quasi-realistic hombre horizon and a hovering mass that resolves into a pink marbled unmanned aircraft (once you read its title). Spontaneous Utterance expands like an over-open rose, creating cylindrical internal space and providing a perfect example of Lane’s taste for combining patterns–blue upper ground, fashion-striped lower ground, swirled organic colors, and wide black-and-white bars in a jumble that should not work, but does. And an offhand remark is also how John Kerry “accidentally” averted the war at that press conference. So there’s that.
But while Lane would rather talk about magic, there’s no avoiding the question, “How do you make them?” As Lane explains, “It’s brushless abstraction, but really it’s collage. Of course they don’t look like that; and they are paintings by definition. They are made of paint. They are created using molecular and fluid dynamics;” aka, the laws of physics. But she likes to call them collages, partly to annoy other painters, and partly because “the action happens” during the arranging of those elements she prep-chefs. “It’s funny I know, but all the real painting happens after the paint is dry.”
—SHANA NYS DAMBROT
“Marion Lane: Adventures in Suntan Alley” was on view this fall at LAUNCH Gallery, in Los Angeles, from September 7 — 28, 2013. www.launchla.org/index.html
Photo of the artist: Eric Minh Swenson