2016 - AFTER IMAGES
AFTER IMAGES is a reflection on the subject of inheritance.
‘Heirlooms’ is the exhibition’s centerpiece and functions as its’ major arcanum. The Oxford dictionary defines “arcana” simply as: “secrets or mysteries”. The term would be better understood when associated with certain works of the Seven Arts as explained by theologian Valentin Tomberg, “Arcana are neither allegories nor secrets. Allegories are only figurative representations of abstract notions, and secrets are facts, or practices, or whatever doctrines that one keeps to oneself for a personal motive… Arcana (on the other hand) are authentic symbols. They conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time according to the depth of meditation. An Arcanum is that which it is necessary to "know" in order to be fruitful in a given domain of spiritual life. ‘Heirlooms’ iconography informs the rest of the works in the show in one-way or another. Following are a few notes on the major components within the painting.
1. THE DEPRESSION GLASS PLATES are part of a set of dishes passed down to me from my Grandmother. They were given to her as a wedding gift in 1929. The pattern etched on the plates repeats & evolves in other paintings in the exhibition and functions as an icon for the deeper meaning of biological & spiritual inheritance and evolution.
2. THE WOODEN CHAIR is one of a set of four chairs that were placed around my Grandmothers’ kitchen table where me & my siblings would gather throughout our childhood for meals & playing card games. Painted on the back of the chair is an emblem of a TREE. The tree symbol manifests in other paintings in multiple ways. Some of its’ interpretations are obvious: the family tree, tree of life, etc. There is also a reference to a tree pattern that sometimes marks itself indelibly on the skin of a person who has been struck by lightning.
3. The FLOOR TILES are 6 pointed stars. The hiding & revealing of the sacred symbol sets a foundation for the inherited objects to be placed upon.
4. THE SHADOW BOX DIORAMA OF THE LITTLE SWEDISH KITCHEN was given to my Grandmother as an anniversary gift from our Papa Oscar in the late 1940’s. The little kitchen was hung on the living room wall of their apartment on the Westside of Chicago. As a child, I always wanted to be lifted to be eye level with the little room to enter into its perfectly contained world. This beloved heirloom is now in my home in Seattle and hangs on a wall in my studio. In an oblique way, it points to the principal of adoption in the spiritual sense. Papa Oscar was my Grandmother’s second husband and came to be the St. Joseph to we four small children. Recently, after some 60 years of viewing little kitchen - the objects contained within it have acted as Tomberg instructs they might. He says, "An Arcanum is a ferment" or an "enzyme" and whose presence stimulates the spiritual and the psychic life. And its symbols are the bearers of these” (proteins). The representation of the little kitchen records the actual object, the only element I’ve altered is the view outside the windows. I’ve extracted the horizon line and altered the pallet to reflect the exterior view beyond the Gate in the painting, ‘Transfiguration of the Fist Boy’.
As a final point of point of entry into the work, I offer a quote from Miguel de Unomuno’s, 'The Tragic Sense of Life'.
"Every supposed restoration of the past is a creation of the future, and if the past which is sought to restore a dream, something imperfectly known, so much the better. The tread, as ever is toward the future, and (they) who forge ahead are getting there, even though the promenade is walking backwards. And who knows if that is not the better way!"
AFTER IMAGES in total, was initially inspired by that book. A portrait of the poet can be found in the painting, 'The Snowfall Is So Silent' titled after his poem.
THE SNOW FALL IS SO SILENT
The snowfall is so silent,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless;
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls,
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden flashes of white;
covers everything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.
- Laura Lasworth 2016
2010 - THE WESTERN WALL
The Western Wall: Place and Memory, by Katie Kresser
Since 2001, Seattle artist Laura Lasworth’s method has been rather like that of a long-form writer. In her elaborate cycles of paintings, including Love’s Lyric of 2001 and The Gray of 2004, each panel functions as a chapter; from the whole a narrative emerges, coaxing careful “reading.” Unlike writers, however, painters work in space as well as thought, and this is why the The Western Wall is, paradoxically, both narrative and non-linear. A memoir in space, The Western Wall embraces, surrounds and radiates, effectively moving as the viewer moves. The story may begin or end with each painting.
Physically speaking, The Western Wall originated in January of 2009. In concept and theme, however, this cycle has been many years in the making. James McNeill Whistler famously declared his Nocturne in Black and Gold, painted in half a day, “the work of a lifetime;” in the present case, Ms. Lasworth’s paintings are also certainly the products of a life. First, they are in dialogue with her earlier works: the title The Western Wall, inspired in part by its namesake in Jerusalem, recalls the artist’s Love’s Lyric cycle (based on the Solomonic Song of Songs). Second, they are marked by past spaces of pilgrimage and habitation: Lasworth visited the Holy Land in 1998, and the vista central to each panel was inspired by the view from her Seattle apartment from 2002-2009. Finally, in many of the paintings, influences long crucial to the artist (the painter George Tooker, the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) emerge like angelic visitors or living constellations; together they are like the beginnings of a personal pantheon, each figure at once distant and present, at once descended from the heavens and available to the reverent eye.
There is a summative and retrospective quality here. Laden trees, stormy skies, lace cloths and broken branches are familiar motifs in Lasworth’s oeuvre. We are witnessing the coalescence, perhaps, of a long-gestating personal vocabulary. And if the “words” all of us choose – whether visual or verbal – reflect the nature of our own time-and-space-bound sojourns, Lasworth’s journey might be characterized as one of ecstatic and sometimes lonely solitude, of gentle pain, of reaching nostalgia and of a deep, almost penetrating focus on the small and the fragile, the private and secret, the cloistered and pure. This is a story of wave-like – literally recursive – seclusions and their revelations. The viewer can relive these life-journeys on both smaller and larger scales – by contemplating one painting or by regarding the whole.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem, a remnant of the ancient Temple, is a place of prayer and supplication. Lasworth’s own “western wall,” from 2002 to 2009, was a vertical expanse of golden brick and clear glass separating her home-space from the vastness of Puget Sound. The views you see in this gallery, therefore, are simultaneously open vistas and obdurate presences. Puget Sound, a wall of water and sky, is a physical barrier, but it is also a focus of devotion. As such, it becomes a miraculous palimpsest, where past or distant figures, familiar images and cherished objects are inscribed and transfigured into revelations. (One is put in mind of St. Francis of Assisi, who located the face of God in “Brother Son and Sister Moon.”) Lasworth’s dense personal iconography features not only recognizable presences (Tooker and Teilhard de Chardin), but presences-in-absence. The critical theorist Norman Bryson, for example, is present in a subtitle (“Looking at the Overlooked”) and in the central arc of The Remnant (as an analyst of Spanish still-life painting, Bryson identified a characteristic arc-form in the work of Francisco Zurbarán). The meticulous still-life painter Juan Sanchez Cotán is likewise present as an echo, his delicately poised compositions evoked through a suspended whisper of lace.
- Katie Kresser
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2005 - THE GRAY (Et lux in tenebris lucet.)
"There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness, and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly real and sometimes almost incredulously real."
Very simply, the paintings and drawings in this exhibit represent a journey through a gray region where faith or at best - faulty intuition is the only tool of navigation. Be it a region created by the dark of war or mourning after a great loss.
SAINT THESRESE, "Pray for Us!"
A large-scale portrait of Saint Therese (the Little Flower) is the cornerstone of thirty-three other works.
AFTER A GREAT PAIN
This painting of a snowflake going through a process of transfiguration is inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone
This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow -
First – Chill - then Stupor - then the letting go -
This suite of seven paintings are each on an arch shaped panel and named for the seven times during the day Benedictine monks are called to prayer: Vigils, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. The background colors shift according to the time of day. On each panel rendered in white oil paint is a different lace doily. This piece is dedicated to my cousin (once removed) Father James O’Connor and his Benedictine brothers at the New Melleray Abbey in Peosta Iowa. Father Jim was a fighter pilot in WWII. He said that during the war he had seen so much death and devastation, so many young men killed, his own brother (also a pilot) was shot down and never found. When the war ended, he determined to do some good by praying for the world for rest of his life. He joined the monastery at the age of 24. He has been praying for our world and us for over fifty five years.
TUPELO, "Let Me Go There!” HE SAID combines the lyrics of a Nick Cave song about a torrent of black rain with a poem by Episcopalian priest, R.S. Thomas. The paintings’ image contains two fragile and barren trees making contact with a dark intense downpour from above.
LORD STANLEY portrays British painter Stanley Spencer reading love letters to his dead wife Hilda.
THE GRAY is a triptych depicting the movement of prismatic rain filled clouds across a gray sky.
WILL SEEN, WILL SAID is a triptych that plays on the title and content of the story ILL SEEN, ILL
SAID, by Samuel Beckett.
MITTEN TREE and THE FAIRY TREE
The paintings of the Twin Trees came soon after I learned about the death of my half sister in the summer of 2002. She was killed in a lightening storm while on holiday in France. She was out taking photographs when a tree was struck by lightening and fell on her. It was three years before her body was finally discovered. In a state of grieving, the image of a tree with branches spiraling outward like a circular saw blade ornamented by gray mittens came to mind.
These paintings were just completed when by chance Bob Drovdal’s wife Sharon asked if I had ever read St. Joan of Arc,by Mark Twain? "No" being my answer she kindly sent me the book as a gift. Imagine my bewilderment when I read the following passage.
The Fairy Tree of Domremy
I know that when the Children of the Tree die in a far land, then - if they be at peace with God - they turn their longing eyes toward home, and there, far-shining, as through a rift in a cloud that curtains heaven, they see the soft picture of the Fairy Tree, clothed in a dream of golden light; and they see the bloomy mead sloping away to the river, and to their perishing nostrils is blown faint and sweet the fragrance of the flowers of home. And then the vision fades and passes - but theyknow, they know! and by their transfigured faces you know also, you who stand looking on; yes, you know the message that has come, and that it has come from heaven.
Saint Joan of Arc
by Mark Twain.
Other titles in the exhibit include: HUMMINGBIRDS, BONNETS & WATERFALL, APPLE, PEONIE, PRAYER CARD, TWO SHAKER CHAIRS, and three individual paintings of Shaker bonnets titled, THREE BONNETS.
There are three graphite renderings of lace doilies titled, ALENCON LACE. The maker of this lace was particularly skilled in the art of making the connections between the various stitches invisible. Saint Therese’s mother was known to be particularly gifted in this special art form.
The image of lace throughout the show metaphorically illustrates the fragility of bonds to our fellows and to faith itself. The negative space representing Absence - the threads and knots Presence - which together create a pattern that weaves experiences of joy and suffering into something hopefully beautiful.
- Laura Lasworth
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2001 - LOVE'S LYRIC
The compositions in this suite of paintings came out of a lengthy study of the sacred poem, the Song of Songs. For about three years I studied different translations of the canticle along with numerous books of commentary.
The traditional Orthodox view is that the poem is an expression of God’s Love for the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Medieval times produced a flourish of elaborate allegorical interpretations on the poem. The most prolific of these writers was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote some seventy-nine sermons on the canticle. Most of the writers from this period interpret the poem’s detailed attention to the human body as an expression of the mystical marriage between the individual soul and divine love.
The authors who have written about the Song are diverse in scholarship and varied in interpretation. Some authors are religiously inspired by the poem, others interpret it culturally or sociologically, and there are those who analyze and comment on it purely as literature. Recent scholarship reveals that the poem’s origin is in a species of Middle Eastern nuptial songs.
In his book, which is a cultural and anthropological analysis of the poem, author Othmar Keel
makes full use of parallels both textural and iconographic from Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. It is through his scholarship that I learned the “Rose of Sharon” is actually a type of lotus.
In the 14 century the devout Jewish Philosopher and Physicist, Gersoinides explains
thatthe poem is a guide for theintellectually elite to achieve felicity or ultimate happiness through the study of Judaism and Aristotelian Metaphysics.
Two of the most recent publications of commentary are, The Song of Songs, Modern Critical Interpretations (edited by Harold Bloom) and The Feminist Companion to the Song of Songs (edited by Athalya Brenner). Both collections contain an essay by Phyllis Trible titled, Love’s Lyric Redeemed. This essay is the inspiration for the title of the exhibition and it has also influenced the compositions for a few of the individual paintings. In her essay, Ms. Trible theorizes that the Song ofSongs is a poetic rendering of a restored Garden of Eden inhabited by Adam and Eve passionately in love with each other. The works in the exhibit that reference Ms. Trible’s essay are Billy and the Bather, Crystal Apple,and Tower of Lilies.
In Billy and the Bather an adolescent girl (from George Tooker’s, The Bathers) holds a crystal apple. The Bather is joined by Billy (my first boyfriend), whose sad and untimely death occurred a few years ago. It was from Billy that I received my first kiss. Together, Billy and the Bather return the apple to its original place on the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
In Tower of Lilies, five lilies (referencing the Pentateuch) are placed in a vase. The vessel has fired onto its belly a version of Thomas Cole’s painting, Paradise.
There are two pieces in this suite I would describe as iconology of the canticle to be understood as a call of Divine Love to an individual soul. The work titled The Bride, recalls Dante’s upward spiraling journey of the soul described in both The Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova. And Beyond the Dull Voices references the end of the fourth chapter of James Joyce’s book, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is in this section of the book that the young Stephen Dedalus has an epiphanic vision. The vision reveals to him that his souls genuine calling is to be a writer and not a priest. In his book, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos; The Middle Ages of James Joyce , Umberto Eco writes that after this event Stephen (Joyce) truly becomes “a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life”.
In the Summer of 1998 (through a generous grant from Art Center College of Design) I took a trip to Israel which showed me first hand many of the places and things described in the poem.
- Laura Lasworth
1997 - THE HABIT OF BEING: A Portrait of Miss Mystery and Manners
Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica, CA -1997
Blackbridge Hall Gallery, Georgia College& State U., Milledgeville, GA - 2000
The works in this exhibit include a large-scale portrait of Ms. O'Connor and twelve other works with images inspired by the authors' fiction. In the portrait, Flannery O'Connor sits in a green rocking chair centered on a backwoods revivalist platform, holding a blue infant familiar to those who know the work of 15c painter, Geertgen tot Sint Jans. The compositions for four of the smaller works are inspired from the novella, The Violent Bear It Away bearing titles such as: "Tarwater's Seed-Like Eyes" and "The Dark Spot Between Two Chimney's". Other stories included in the suite of paintings are The Enduring Chill, Good Country People, and A Good Man is Hard to Find with the titles: "The Stain On The Ceiling", "Joy's Leg", and "Pity Sing".
Titles of works by Flannery O'Connor referenced in the exhibition:
The Violent Bear It Away
The Enduring Chill
The Lame Shall Enter First
A Good Man Is Hard To FindThe River
The Temple Of The Holy Ghost
Good Country People
The Habit of Being
Mystery and Manners
- Laura Lasworth