Rocks speak to Los Angeles artist Lita Albuquerque. They've done so since she was a girl growing up in Tunisia, in the area that was once the ancient city-state of Carthage.
They speak of time and place, of the Earth's essence and of our own existence because, after all, we humans are made up of the same elements found in a rock or a piece of coal. In "Remembrance," her series of paintings and sculptures, she brings the natural world, which is so much a part of her being, into the center of her art.
"In this particular series, I am using the rock as a metaphor for the planet Earth, and thinking of it as a fragment floating through space," said Albuquerque of her solo show, now in its last week at the University of Judaism's Platt Gallery.
The intense blue hues of her work, generated from powdered pigment, are the colors of the sea and sky of her childhood home. The gold, from gold leaf, is of its sun.
In Tunisia, "the nighttime sky was not black, but blue," she said. "What I'm interested in is the effect of the sea, sun and sky on our physiology, the physiological need and response to them."
"Remembrance" is the first exhibit to open in the gallery since the Jan. 17 earthquake closed the space.
The earliest works in the "Remembrance" series, which Albuquerque began in 1988, present a square painted panel with a metal leaf-disk at its center. A rock emanates from the disk's center.
Later works include vibrant auras around the disk and a piece of coal rather than rock. Albuquerque uses coal for "what it represents in terms of time and information, and that it comes from the core of the Earth," she said. "I'm putting all these elements out as questions about 'What is matter?"'
A recent untitled work depicts the horizon of the Earth, painted in black, against deep blue space. Beneath the painting lies a glass box filled with gold-leaf fragments. Here she asks, "What was the alchemical work?" What was the process that transformed base metals into gold? But she explained that she seeks not so much a literal answer, as a poetic one.
To shed some light on her process, Albuquerque has included an alchemical workshop in the center of the gallery. On display are artist's pages--her writings about the ideas behind the pieces--as well as journal writings that began after the earthquake. Elements have been set on a scale, calibrated, measured. Gold and coal symbolize the equilibrium of light and dark. Numbers on paper suggest another kind of information in the work.
"I wanted to do something representative of my studio at home, the inner works of how I get from here to there," she said. Through writing, meditation and artistic processing of elements, "I project myself to all known reaches of the outer universe."
"Remembrance: Paintings and Sculpture by Lita Albuquerque." University of Judaism's Platt Gallery, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday. Closed Saturday. Show ends Nov. 9. Call: (310) 476-9777, Ext. 276.