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Flower? Animal? Person? The color-drenched questions in Mimi Lauter's drawings

Flower? Animal? Person? The color-drenched questions in Mimi Lauter's drawings
Mimi Lauter's "Mountain in a Cage," 2016. Oil pastel, soft pastel on paper, 70 inches by 108.5 inches. (Tif Sigfrids)

Mimi Lauter's enthralling drawings have a visual grammar all their own. Their sense of scale is elusive and independent of their physical size. They feel immersive, whether small as a notebook page or large enough to dominate a wall. Color is not in motion, but motion itself. Space is texture. Lauter uses oil pastel and soft pastel as sculptural instruments, thickening the surface with crust, scraping it away, carving into it with fine notches.

"Interiors," the title of her show at Tif Sigfrids gallery in Hollywood, might indicate that the works depict architectural spaces, or that they invoke inner-scapes of the mind or dreams. With Lauter, the tendency is toward an exhilaratingly open-ended both/and, rather than either/or.

There are mountains in the scenes, and also flowers, but specificity doesn't preclude multiplicity. Even intricately drawn shapes and passages escape clear definition. Whatever inner or outer world the L.A. artist is chronicling, it is one that teems with vitality and appears to be in continuous formation.

"Mountain in a Cage," one of two large drawings here, has upthrusts and blossomings, striated fields of energy, power-bestowing rays, sweeps and swells of color, rises, pushes and pulls.

The title of the show might also be a nod to the Intimists, late-19th century French painters of domestic interiors who favored unmodeled color, surfaces dense with pattern, and immersive decorative schemes. Lauter's work has a sure affinity not only with Intimists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, but also with Odilon Redon and his searing, saturated hues; the lush strokes of Van Gogh; the hatch marks of Paul Klee; the chromatic atmospheres of Claude Monet. The resonant reach of these drawings stretches even further, to cave paintings, Byzantine mosaics, Renaissance tapestries. Within them, time itself swoons.

Mimi Lauter's "Living Room Interior," 2016. Oil pastel, soft pastel on paper, 70 inches by 93 inches.
Mimi Lauter's "Living Room Interior," 2016. Oil pastel, soft pastel on paper, 70 inches by 93 inches. (Tig Sigfrids)

Small marks accrete and embed with broader gestures, building to a sort of rapturous tumult. However indeterminate her subjects (Animal? Vegetable? Mineral?), Lauter draws with insistence. Her colors have a purity and intensity that shock the system into a kind of sensual overdrive: luminous gold and luscious violet, fervent crimson and earthy clay, gem-like ruby, garnet, jade, vibrant lime and aqua.

In 1890, Maurice Denis, colleague and contemporary of the Intimists, famously remarked: "Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." But what colors. And what wondrously fluid order.

Tif Sigfrids, 1507 Wilcox Ave., L.A. Through March 4; closed Sundays and Mondays; (323) 907-9200, tifsigfrids.com

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