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For artist Eleanore Mikus, a journey into the unknown

For artist Eleanore Mikus, a journey into the unknown
Eleanore Mikus' "Tablet 146," 1969. Epoxy on wood, 11-5/8 inches by 11-5/8 inches. (Robert Wedemeyer / Marc Selwyn Fine Art)

The mind's first reflex when encountering something new is to categorize it, to assign familiar terms to the unfamiliar, as if fastening a seat belt around a potentially wild unknown to keep it safely in place.

Art history and criticism may thrive on such positioning and historicizing, but when work subverts those boundaries, it delivers some deep thrills.

Such is the case with the revelatory Eleanore Mikus show at Marc Selwyn Fine Art. Mikus (1927-2017) established herself in the 1960s, exhibiting regularly in New York and appearing over subsequent decades in group shows at the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art, but she is little known in L.A. An online bio indicates that this is her first solo show on the West Coast.

Eleanore Mikus
Eleanore Mikus, no title, 2010. Crayon on hand-folded abaca paper, 19-1/8 inches by 19 inches. Robert Wedemeyer / Marc Selwyn Fine Art

Terms like minimalism, monochrome painting and process art may supply some skeletal understanding to her wall reliefs in black and white and her folded paper works. But spend some time in their presence, and they invoke a more idiosyncratic vocabulary of sensation — silence, restraint, fullness, the implication of shadows.

Mikus extracted tremendous metaphorical richness from her materials. Her paper pieces, made by folding and unfolding, read as tenderly hand-worked, blind-embossed grids. Meditative, repeated motion becomes patterned mark. Spare as shoji screens, sensual as woven textiles, the paper works are physical inscriptions, coded texts bypassing language altogether.

The "Tablets" (all but one dating from the 1960s) also suggest a sort of nonverbal messaging, direct from the interior. Mikus created these shallow reliefs in several ways but primarily by creating irregular substrates of glued-together wood scraps, coating them with gesso and finally sheathing them in multiple layers of paint, sanded and sometimes waxed to a dull sheen.

Eleanore Mikus
Eleanore Mikus' "Tablet 137,' 1965-66. Acrylic on wood, 14.25 inches by 14.25 inches. Robert Wedemeyer / Marc Selwyn Fine Art

Two of the smaller pieces — one a dark graphite, the other yellowed ivory, each about 1 foot square — evoke suppressed secrets, their forms pressing up from beneath the heavy blanket of pigment. The effect is vaguely surreal, as of an enigma at once charged and neutralized. Mikus actively embraced such contradictions and as a result, the work, for all of its distilled purity, is complex and expansive. However quiet, it fiercely resists resolution.

Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 9953 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. Through May 19; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 277-9953, www.marcselwynfineart.com

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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