January 1998

Laura Lasworth at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery

The inexhaustible tradition of narrative painting finds haunting guise in the latest series of Laura Lasworth tableaux titled The Habit of Being: Portrait of Miss Mystery and Manners.This suite of fifteen pieces derives its inspiration from the writings of Flamery O'connor (1925-1964). the prose sorceress who was a southern gothicist in the mold of Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers, but with a religious brief distinctly her own.

Lasworth's long preoccupation with the religious experience fastens, in her present series, on the folk mysticism inherent in O'Connor's fictional realm of fanatical itinerant salvationists, lurking epiphany, and quiet revelation. Like Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti who, during a period of grief over the loss of his young wife, is said to have interpreted all observable phenomena symbolically - believing, for example, the appearance of a sparrow on a window sill to be a message from his deceased beloved - the visitor to Lasworth's pictorial kingdom is immediately cognizant of an otherworldliness perfusing a rural American anywhere. Simple, everyday actions and artifacts take on a charged signifigance.

Lasworth's visual vocabulary is strongly reminiscent of such surrealists as Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage and Remedios Varo, but her folkloric lilt and religious bent situate her more squarely between the camp of magic realism and the school of faux naif. Abeyant eyes, levitating drapery, anachronistic cats, household objects, scrawny, vine-like trees crucified on wirework trellises, as well as a smattering of more spectral irnages, are less important in Lasworth's canvases than the implication of the extraphysical forces propelling them.

Light and luminosity, or what might more properly be called numinosity, are essential to Lasworth's vision: subtle chromatics lend a gossamer quality to stately lotus blossom chalices and mystic flowers, handkerchiefs stained by holy maculae, drifting snowflakes, enhaloed fish, and perfectly poised prophetic children. Like juggler's balls held in the grip of ecstatic suspension, the persons and objects in these paintings are bathed in an immanent glow, a preternatural penumbra suggesting holy presence, and the viewer is privileged to be present at a rnoment when visible matter quivers on the verge of being snatched away in spontaneous Rapture. This aura of the clairvoyant in contact with the Great Beyond and is strangely heightened by a penchant for muted purples and pinks and pastel-soft greens and grays.

Laura Lasworth, Tarwater's Seed-Like Eyes, 1997 oil on panel, 19½" x 11½", at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica

Laura Lasworth, Tarwater's Seed-Like Eyes, 1997 oil on panel, 19½" x 11½", at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica

Lasworth makes O'Connor's fictional mythos manifest through the depiction of an odd assortment of discrete components: poles and platforms, leaning crutches and aerial prosthetic devices, cloaks afloat in idyllic woods, diaphanous ceilings, gauzy cloudscapes, quaint animals, pairs of pixillated children, swan boats, and heart-shaped cookie cutters standing in porcelain pans alongside vases containing cattails, peppermints and pomegranate pods. However improbably, paintings like The Temple of the Holy Ghost and The Lame Shall Enter First remind us of the underlying theme linking these artists: that even the rustic grotesque can see shimmering veils on the infinite, and that the yearning for union with a Higher Reality is a function of a universal human drive to achieve transformation and release from loneliness, isolation and suffering.

A sorceress of the easel, Lasworth's virtuosity of technical execution and sense of composition relates her to an elite cadre of new classicists working various veins of enigmatism. Her intimacy, and her quiet, lyric gnosticisrn set her apart as a genuine seeker after spiritual absolutes; she deftly demonstrates, with
grace, wit and charm, that one medium can be reinterpreted with added depth and dimension in another, and can even capture, with intensity and immediacy, the possibility of trespass on Ultimate Ground.

- Rick Gilbert

Laura Lasworth - The Habit of Being: A Portrait of Miss Mystery and Manners closed in December at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica.

Rick Gilbert is a freelance writer based in Newport Beach.