Nature is doing surprisingly well in 11 new paintings by Morgan Mandalay. Humanity? Not so much.
At Klowden Mann Gallery, the Chicago-based artist’s solo L.A. debut has trees aflame in dark and coagulated landscapes. Fish rot, boughs decay, hanging fruit glows with an unearthly intensity, while seemingly startled birds flee.
The paradox is that all the drama seems an integral part of the natural rhythms of life and death, like the raging forest fires and prairie burns that contribute to the renewal of habitat. Mandalay paints with a hand that is more unpolished than delicate, and the surfaces of his paintings feel clotted and rich.
Lurking amid the visual uproar are thick, deathly gray hands of unseen people, which grasp at tree limbs for stability. Sometimes, as in a small picture of ripe fruit in a hollowed-out tree trunk, the composition itself loosely suggests a human body-part — a head or torso.
There are echoes of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the Italian Mannerist painter best known for imaginative portrait heads made entirely of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The little painting also nods to the dark still lifes that Gustave Courbet painted when he was incarcerated in a Paris prison, victim of his radical political beliefs. Another work curls delicate flowers around the jawbone of an ass, Samson’s crude but effective weapon against uncultured Philistines.
Mandalay’s landscapes ponder life in the Garden of Eden after the fall. Humanity might be pulled under as a consequence of its own burgeoning imperfections, but indifferent nature will carry on.
Klowden Mann Gallery, 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through May 4. (310) 280-0226, www.klowdenmann.com