Laura Lark: “The Misuses of Enchantment”

at Devin Borden Gallery

“Suspension of Disbelief II,” 2015, Laura Lark
Oil on paper, 60″ x 34″
Photo: courtesy Devin Borden Gallery

In contrast to the large pointillist drawings for which she is best known, Laura Lark turns to painting to continue her examination of the feminine cultural milieu. The title of the show is a takeoff on “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales” published in 1976 by Bruno Bettelheim. Whereas he proposes that dark fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood may actually help children grow emotionally, Lark addresses the negative effect of the fairy tales implied in the glossy pages of women’s fashion magazines. She recalls looking through them with her mother when she was a teenager in the 1980s. The underlying message was (and continues to be) that the more one resembles the women in those pages-tall, thin, fashionably attired-the more likely it is that Prince Charming will arrive on a white horse to propose marriage with a large diamond. With a flowering vine threaded through an engagement ring and wedding band, her painting Entwined (all works cited 2015, unless noted) implies that love will last forever. Lark investigates the effect of being exposed to such unrealistic goals at an early age through her studies of women who strike model-like poses and gaze at the camera with a requisite lack of expression. Their attractiveness is not directed toward men but toward the women who consume the merchandise being advertised.

The women in Suspension of Disbelief I and II are suspended in air, floating as though weightless, their scarves blowing in a breeze no doubt generated by a studio fan. The models in the triptych Rainy Day Women, Yellow Blue and Red are more transparent than they are weightless, but with the same nonchalant attitude. The portraits Tracy Baby and Adjacent Veranda seem to have been influenced by Matisse, with their flowery and patterned backgrounds. Gypsy has an affinity with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1484), and the young woman in The Misuses of Enchantment has the same almond-shaped eyes and threequarter profile favored by Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar. Lark delves into the projected persona of these women in order to better understand the society that created them and the psychological and emotional effects on her own identity. The underlying message seems to be the danger and futility of attempting to attain such perfection.

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Donna Tennant is a Houston-based art writer who writes reviews for various publications, including art ltd. and Visual Art Source. Other publications she has written for over the past 35 years include the Houston Chronicle, Southwest Art, Artlies, ARTnews, and the Houston Press. She has also written numerous catalogue essays. She has taught art history at University of Houston–Downtown and Lone Star College and is currently a writer and editor for the Houston Independent School District.