Friday, November 28, 1997
Reflecting on Flannery O'Connor's Themes
ART REVIEWS

By LEAH OLLMAN
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

  Laura Lasworth's "Portrait of Flannery O'Connor" (1996-97) resonates with the Southern writer's texts  .

Laura Lasworth's "Portrait of Flannery O'Connor" (1996-97) resonates with the Southern writer's texts.

Laura Lasworth's entrancing new paintings at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art are based on the writings of Flannery O'Connor (1925-64), but they don't depend on knowledge of the author's work to be appreciated. They resonate with O'Connor's text more than they illustrate them. They are self-sufficient - visually and emotionally lush still lifes, landscapes and portraits.

Wisely, Lasworth, who has long mined spiritual and religious themes in her work, doesn't try inher paintings to encompass the breadth of O'Connor's fiction. The hypocrisy of the self-righteous and persistent chasm dividing race, generation and class in the mid-century South are themes the writer explores excruciatingly well through narrative time. Lasworth's medium is space, and within the single frame of a painting she conjures atmosphere and mood of a richness akin to O'Connor's tales.

In "Portrait of Flannery O'Connor," the author sits in a rocker on what Lasworth identifies as a "backwoods revivalist platform," holding a blue-skinned child in her arms. A long, grassy field yawns behind her, and a donkey passes to one side, next to three vines evoking the setting of Christ's crucifixion.

Sheets of paper form a halo of sorts over O'Connor's head. The beloved peacocks she raised when, ailing from lupus, she returned to her mother's farmhouse to live (until her death 13 years later), cluster around a wooden well where she has rested her metal crutches. With the luminous color and precise detail of an early Renaissance painting, Lasworth has created a symbolic portrait of the devoutly Catholic O'Connor that abounds in both visual and visionary significance.

"The Stain on the Ceiling" is, in its elusiveness, more typical of Lasworth's work here. It shows simply a knotted cloth, perhaps a sheet, gloriously rendered. In its smoothed-out center lies an indecipherable blotch, a crusty eruption of paint akin to the abrupt, episodic violence that frequently catalyzes a revelation in O'Connor's stories.

Other paintings, some in the arched format of icons, recall specific visions experienced by O'Connor's characters, of "hellish red trunks rising up in a black wood," or "a burnt wound between two blackened chimneys." Enigmatic and intense, Lasworth's paintings lay out a psychological landscape of epiphanies and failures, revelations and sorrows. Like O'Connor's writing, their power can leave you breathless.

Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828- 1133, through Dec. 24.