Several of Barbara Benish’s recent mixed-media paintings in her “Bohemian Elegy” series are grandiose machines garnished with a somewhat startling array of three-dimensional objects and laced with learned borrowings from art history. You have to admire the guts involved in this enterprise, even when the mise-en-scene remains elusive.
“Prague"--which is meant to be illuminated by stubby candles set in gas cans on the floor and a hanging bulb in a barbed-wire “lamp shade"--is in part an operatic scene of medieval courtiers swirling around a semi-nude white figure in extremis-- possibly St. Wenceslaus, Prague’s 10th-Century ruler, who was murdered by his brother--and a walkway bordered by statues that seem to turn and leer at the viewer.
Also occupying this 20-foot-long wood panel are a panoramic townscape executed in 17th-Century style, a framed painting sketch of a cloaked figure, a still-life painting of armor, a real street light, a real folkloric brass bowl and a stuffed bird. It remains unclear, however, whether the viewer is meant to read this evocation of a culture as a reminder of the vicissitudes of contemporary political life.
In her smaller pieces, Benish uses what appear to be genuine architectural ornaments and vernacular paintings from her visit to Poland as raw surfaces to be reworked in ways that seem to reveal a soft spot for the religiosity of Polish folk life.
Rose-Lynn Fisher devises dreamy mixed-media-on-paper pieces in which delicately tinted halls with coffered ceilings or Romanesque arches are populated by a small, fey cast of knights, acrobats, alchemists and ladies-in-waiting from old woodcuts, combined with gossamer three-dimensional insects, sea horses, tiny stones and other accessories. Despite the title of the series, “Events of Order and Necessity,” Fisher is more successful at creating sweet, never-never-land fancies than in convincing the viewer of some cosmological truth. (Saxon-Lee Gallery, 7225 Beverly Blvd., to April 8.)