Throughout her 20-year career, Los Angeles-based painter Lita Albuquerque has wrestled with the age-old dilemma of determining where man fits in the cosmic scheme of things.
She’s taken on the herculean task of bridging the gap between man, the Earth, sky and the heavens, accumulating information from the forces of nature and her own intuition.
“The moment is what interests me,” Albuquerque, 40, said in an interview at her spacious downtown Los Angeles studio. “Focusing on what is happening both externally and internally at the moment, the beauty of saying in Tantric terms ‘the street is the street'--the beauty of now.”
Albuquerque is best known for installations and earth works that comment on the interplay of Earth, sun and what she calls their “offspring"--shadow. Using brightly colored powdered pigment, she’s tinted the grass of the Washington Monument, and trekked to Death Valley and the Mojave desert to place pigmented rocks in the sand. Currently, she is finishing a permanent installation at Orange Coast College. Sometimes her mission was to discover what triggers spiritual energy in people; other times it was to comment on the vulnerability of nature.
In a new series of works at Saxon-Lee Gallery, she has abandoned ephemeral, large-scale projects. Now, she scrubs oil paint and permanent iridescent pigment onto silk, creating paintings that illustrate her concept of the Sleeping Beauty, a mythical woman doubling as the Earth about to awaken from a deep sleep.
Most of the 15 paintings at the gallery feature a woman’s body positioned as the horizon line of the sea and the sky, surrounded by a dark background inhabited by stars, boat shapes, and ovals, which Albuquerque says represent “the mirror,” the internal and external observation of the moment. “I’m interested in the fact that the Earth itself is always half in darkness and half in light,” she said of the origin of the Sleeping Beauty concept. “I’m also interested in the notion of sleep--where people really go when they’re asleep--as well as the image and feeling of the night. (I think) in terms of a mythological couple watching the Earth from the darkness of the universe.”
Included in Albuquerque’s version of the Sleeping Beauty myth is the prince who scolds and inspires the Earth from outer space, represented in the paintings by a boat-shaped figure.
“The image of the boat, the prince, comes and he can’t wake her up--she (the Earth) resists him,” she said. “Symbolically, the prince is looking down from outer space, looking at the Earth and saying, ‘Wake up to who you really are, before you blow yourself to pieces. Look in the mirror. Wake up to your own beauty.’ ”
The images for the paintings are based on Albuquerque’s “automatic writings,” a set of yrical narrative poems that describe, in stages, the story of the Sleeping Beauty and the prince. At the gallery, some of the poetry is inscribed in long, colorful scroll-like painted strips of kimdura (high gloss) paper.
The daughter of a Tunisian mother and Turkish father, Albuquerque lived in Carthage, Tunisia, from age 3 to 13. Much of the imagery she employs in her painting is derived from this North African environment.
“I was raised in a rich, multi-cultural environment which I loved,” she says of Carthage. “It wasn’t until years later, and through my work, that I realized the powerful influence of that culture’s attachment to the Earth. I’ve found the need to re-experience that, especially since I’ve felt the disconnectedness of Western culture, the lack of myth in our lives.” After her stay in Carthage, her family moved to Los Angeles. She received a bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1968.
During the course of the interview, Albuquerque moved in and out of each room of the studio, turning her attention to the art or literature that lies in that particular space.
“The process in all the medias I choose is the same,” she says. “What’s different is the ground, whether it be the earth or canvas or a room. The process is focusing on what’s going on with me personally at that moment and going with that--it’s like taking a slice through all the different aspects of oneself at that particular moment.”
The Saxon-Lee exhibit (7525 Beverly Blvd.) continues through Oct. 11. A concurrent show of Albuquerque’s work will be shown at the Works Gallery, 2740 E. Broadway, Long Beach, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 28.