Alf’s Work Bears Fruit, and It’s Not Just Pears

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<i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times. </i>

Martha Alf has spent much of the past 15 years on one subject: pears. Thus, one might expect a conversation with her to be somewhat confined.

Yet her conversation ambles from her nearsightedness as a child and her precise choices of art supplies to her abiding curiosity about light.

“My work is basically about calm and light. I like paint to glow and do things. My first favorite artist is Vermeer,” said Alf, who during the last two years has begun to include nonobjective images in her work. Her most recent abstract paintings are on view at Newspace gallery in the show “The More Things Change.”


“When I start them, I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said of the series of oil-on-canvas paintings in “Apprehending the Invisible,” which she began last year. Among predecessors to these multilayered, luminous red-hued paintings, with texture and irregular patterns, is last year’s “10 Red Pulse.” Red is her favorite color.

“When the time comes to stop using red, some inner voice will tell me,” she said.

Completed with the fastidious attention to detail and nuance associated with her pears--”my work is also about concentration,” she said--Alf has documented the layers of each painting with photographs.

“I realized that by continuing, I was destroying the first idea in the painting,” she said. After photographing succeeding layers, “I continued to add strokes and then to layer on top, covering each painting with another until it appeared more final, and I stopped.”

Her abstract paintings originated from a month’s worth of monotype prints that Alf produced in July, 1991. While making prints of pears, she became fascinated with the shapes of the space above and below the fruit.

“I think as much about the space as the object. They become one and the same,” she said. “Spaces make equally interesting shapes.

“I used to have the idea that art was to represent the real world. I did drawings as if I were a camera, as I thought they would be if I had 20-20 vision. The only reality we experience in the visual world is what we see. Yours is different from mine. I might not have been so interested in close work if I could see.”


Alf’s move into nonobjective painting has not caused her to abandon the pear. In the show, along with two 1988 drawings--”Five Pears 2,” done with Derwent pencil on Arches paper, and the graphite pencil-on-paper “Large Pear Drawing 1--are four beaming “White Pear” oil on canvas paintings that she did this year. Of varying textures in their layers of color, these images do not go completely white. They shimmer with shades of pink and yellowish beige.

“Every white painting I do has colors underneath,” Alf said. Referring to this series, she said, “Light not only shines on them in a chiaroscuro way, but they emanate light to you.”

The “White Pear” series is based on a photograph of a pear that she took in 1977. “It was the perfect photogenic pear,” she said.

Noting that pears have all sorts of different variations in their shapes, she pointed to her 1992 oil on canvas “Red Pear 1.” “It looks like it’s in motion, like it’s going somewhere,” she said.

No one can render pears as sublimely as Martha Alf. No one should even try.

“Martha Alf: The More Things Change” is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through May 8 at Newspace, 5241 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. Call (213) 469-9353.

WOMEN ARTISTS: Valley College honors women artists with an exhibit of work by former students of its art department. Artists represented in the show are Patti Allen-Akesson, Merrilyn Duzy, Alberta Fins, Gilda Green, Terrie Harrow, Betsy Noorzay, Candice Ocampo, Olivia Ramirez, Lena Rivkin, Norma Jean Squires and Joyce Wexler-Ballard.


Anyone who wants to get a sense of some of the issues on women’s minds today would find this exhibit informative, moving and not without its humorous moments. Subject matter ranges from the art history of women to present-day racism, the environment, breast cancer, the female form, and the laundry. The artists use a variety of media including painting, prints, video, installations and interactive works.

In conjunction with the show, there are two upcoming lectures in the art gallery:

April 12 at 7 p.m., Eugenia Sumnik-Dekovich, associate professor of art history, will present “ ‘What Is Female Imagery?’ Revisited: The Influence of Historical Consciousness and Feminism on the Women’s Art Movement of the 1970s.”

April 19 at 7 p.m., Ingrid Lilligren, president of the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art, will discuss “Heroes: A New Interpretation.”

“Los Angeles Valley College Honors Women Artists” is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays through April 23 at Valley College Art Gallery, 5800 Fulton Ave., Van Nuys. Call (818) 781-1200, ext. 400.

STUDENT ART: It’s that time of the year when universities organize exhibits of students’ artwork before everyone leaves for summer vacation. Here is a sampling of student shows in the area. Call the galleries for show hours.

Cal State Northridge: Monday through June 25. Opening reception is 7 to 9 p.m. Monday in the Fine Arts Building, 18111 Nordhoff St. Call (818) 885-2226.


Pepperdine: Wednesday through Saturday, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 456-4462.

Mount St. Mary’s: April 20 through May 8, Jose Drudis-Biada Gallery, 12001 Chalon Road, West Los Angeles. (310) 471-9860.

Loyola Marymount: April 28 through May 8, Laband Gallery, Loyola Boulevard at West 80th Street, Los Angeles. (310) 338-2880.

CalArts: May 9 through 15, in seven galleries, in memory of Donna Morgan; 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia. (805) 253-7801.

UCLA: June 1 through 20, M.A. and M.F.A. Thesis shows, Wight Art Gallery, 405 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-1461.