THURSDAY MAY 3, 2001

Sensual Images Allude to the Bible's Song of Songs
Art Review
By LEAH OLLMAN

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Laura Lasworth is a literary painter of rare quality, whose works are informed by texts but never burdened by them. The writings of Flannery O’Connor underpinned the work in her last show at Hunsaker/Schlesinger, four years ago. Lasworth populated her canvases with O'Connor's quietly tormented characters and structured the scenes around the vocabulary of concerns she shares with the writer, regarding religious faith, the mysteries of divine presence and the ethics of human behavior.

In her current show at the gallery, Lasworth surveys related territory, though she is now basing her work on the biblical Song of Songs.

The song's shifting voices and vivid evocation of sensual love have been interpreted in myriad ways by readers of different faiths and times. The text has been described as an expression of God's love for the Jewish people, as an ode to the body as both spiritual and erotic vessel and more. Lasworth has steeped herself in the scholarship, but steered clear of an academic tone, producing instead a series of panels in which sensual reverie prevails, just as in the song itself.

  Laura Lasworth's "Veil and Pomegranates" evokes lushness

Laura Lasworth's "Veil and Pomegranates" evokes lushness

She paints a pair of full, dark pomegranates draped by a pink veil, an image that makes exquisitely palpable the lushness and fertility of the fruit, mentioned frequently in the text. She paints a "Lily Among Thistles" in a vase of diluted blood, intensifying the text's reference to the author's love as a "lily among thorns."

Lasworth codes these beautiful, finely articulated still-lifes, as well as her tableaux and narrative scenes, with religious symbols and textual references in the manner of a Northern Renaissance painter. Every element in the paintings is described with a deliberateness that bridges the familiar and the sacred, the tangible and the mysterious - just like in the song that inspired them.

Hunsaker/Sclzlesinger Fine Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-1133, through May 19. Closed Sunday and Monday.