June 1998

SANTA MONICA

Laura Lasworth at Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art

In figuration's current boom, great literature remains a largely untapped source of subject matter. Few contemporary artists have dared to associate themselves with the weighty themes of the Bible, Dante or T.S. Eliot. In her new body of work, however, L.A. artist Laura Lasworth has found a brilliant source for her quirky, allegorical vision: the darkly vivid and spiritually purgative stories of Flannery O'Connor.
Loosely alluding to specific characters, incidents or symbols from O'Connor's stories, Lasworth creates emotionally charged, slightly surreal still lifes and portraits which evoke the writer's tough-as-nails Catholic vision.

Set on an overcast, dirt-poor Georgia plain, the large-scalePortrait of Flannery O'Connor depicts the writer in a rocking chair, surrounded by symbols of her abject faith: a riderless donkey, a couple of parched, crucifix-shaped grapevines, a pair of crutches leaning against a well. Smiling mischievously as she holds a blue, doll-like infant, Lasworth's O'Connor presides over a stripped-to-the-bone world brightened only by a gloriously preening peacock.

  Laura Lasworth: Portrait of Flannery O'connor, 1997, oil on panel, 52 ¼ by 64 ½ inches; at Hunsaker/Schlesinger.

Laura Lasworth: Portrait of Flannery O'connor, 1997, oil on panel, 52 ¼ by 64 ½ inches; at Hunsaker/Schlesinger.

With their haunted eyes and frozen pallors, the figures portrayed in Lucette, Child Prophetess and Bishop are young, off-kilter characters from O'Connor stories who unexpectedly undergo spiritual transformation. Lasworth's meticulously crafted still lifes spin off from descriptive passages or phrases found in the stories. In Tarwater's Seed-Like Eyes, a pair of floating seed-pods conjures a face of terrifying intensity. The luminescent red tree of 0.E. Parker's Epiphany is inspired by O'Connor's descriptionof the embellished tattoos thatdecorate that character's body. In Joy's Leg, a flying prostheticdevice soars over a farm-strewn countryside.

The use of O'Connor as a flinty spiritual guide broadens the scope of Lasworth's spiritual allegories, adding as well a touch of dark, backwoods humor. With this exhibition, Lasworth joins ranks with a select group of artists - including Gregory Gillespie, John Wilde, Tom Knechtel, Thomas Woodruff and Holly Lane - whose sophisticated, allusive paintings effectively extend the traditions of figuration.

Michael Duncan