ART REVIEW : 1 MARRIED COUPLE ADDS UP TO 2 SHOWS AT MUNI
One soars on wings of crumpled paper, the other stalks a pedestrian world of wooden crates and buildings, but Ann and George Page are connected by distinctive approaches to constructed objects as well as by marriage. Now tied together in tandem solo shows, their work stretches out in opposite directions at the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park, through July 7.
Though Ann Page has shown her art at Space Gallery regularly for years, she has never before revealed the range and virtuosity that we encounter at the Muni. A decade of her work grows from poetic formalism into massive organic structures, and we finally see the extent of her capacity to blend linear detail with sculptural volume as she merges her Japanese heritage with Western influence and makes abstract art that’s loaded with metaphoric associations.
Suggestions of birds and kites in her ruffled, translucent paper abstractions allude to flight, weightlessness and freedom. Skeletal bamboo structures and references to cocoons or shed skins--in hollow, rolled pieces such as “Casing” and “Ancestor"--recall stages of life and layers of anatomy. Her work can whisper as silently as a drifting flower petal or ring the gong of death, as in ominous dark pieces, pinned to walls like hides or flayed animals.
“Antares,” an enormous abstraction filling a whole wall, is a red, roughly faceted, circular construction that can be seen as everything from an emblem of female sexuality to a tent or kite, wrecked by a storm and now impaled as a relic. Its skeletal supports have been knocked askew and its strings are dangling, like frayed tethers or the wispy hair of an ancient animal.
These descriptions probably attribute too much specific content to Page’s work, but her ability to set the imagination spinning is a major strength. Another strength is an intuitive merger of medium and form. She begins and ends with a material that resembles rice paper, but probably not like any you’ve seen before. She laminates, tears, dyes, glues, tapes and stitches paper, transforming it into parchment-like skins that are fragile but full of character.
The processed paper seems to have a lot to say about the shapes it takes, with the result that nothing seems contrived or decorative. Her work may not be fashionable, but it has an authentic bearing, and that’s rare in today’s art scene.
George Page’s painted wood constructions don’t fare as well when seen en masse at the Muni. His four sculptures (leaning precariously against walls) and nine wall pieces are solidly based in a conceptual blend of painting, sculpture and architecture, but they seem so repetitive as to appear formulaic.
The only significant change is from see-through, lattice-like, three-dimensional forms to multi-paneled reliefs that stretch out into painterly expanses, and this shift is not necessarily for the better. Difficulties of contradicting wooden form with brushy pigment grow more pronounced as the artist becomes more a painter and less a sculptor or architect. The intended marriage of the three disciplines seems stuck in conflict.
Nonetheless, George Page’s work represents a respectable struggle. Its most interesting aspect is a rough-carpentry aesthetic arising from his use of forms that suggest shipping crates and frames of buildings. Cross-hatched strokes on wooden lattices make visual sense, but the broader painting becomes a separate entity to be reckoned with. It neither complements the wood nor transforms it, so we’re left witnessing a competition-in-progress.
Concurrently, Barrie Mottishaw shows graphite drawings and watercolors of landscapes. Her subjects are largely local and familiar: “Downtown From Griffith Park,” “Mulholland Panorama,” “Pacific Coast Highway, the Palisades” and assorted beach and hill sites, rendered in exaggerated vertical and horizontal formats.
Mottishaw’s light touch and immaculate craftsmanship make people think her highly detailed work reaches the pinnacle of realism. In fact, it is the product of considerable stylization. Hillsides of impacted greenery become lacy patterns of ragged-edged shapes when seen up close, while pines flatten into pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
This art is admirable for its restraint, diligence and filtered observation. Its failing is an emotional distance and near-mechanical control that brings it uncomfortably close to illustration. “Mulholland Panorama” escapes that threat by stacking four strips of hills, drawn at different distances, and setting up an intriguing visual interchange.
This is both the most and least realistic work in the exhibition. Mottishaw confines the panorama to an artificial format, but in doing so, she re-creates the feel of seeing the ridge from a moving vehicle. The flickering movement and changing scale seem more natural than the scenes captured from a single viewpoint.