at Rory Devine Fine Art, Los Angeles (through 6 August)
Reviewed by Eve Wood
Albert Camus once famously asked, “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” One can only hope that this was a rhetorical question, yet however ironic, it is still a sentiment worth pondering, especially considering today’s current socio-political climate of daily hate crimes, bigotry and mass shootings. Let’s face it — if you happen to have been born into a corporeal, human existence, you will inevitably suffer some sort of trauma, either real or imagined, over the course of your lifetime. Hell, even the act of being born, is enough to scare any living creature back into the womb. Still, we persist because, in the end, as Camus suggests, we must all take solace in the smallest mundane tasks that frame our lives and make them bearable. It’s rare that an artist is a direct conduit to both grief and absurdity simultaneously, yet Georganne Deen is exactly that, relishing in the absolute bizarreness that often encompasses a life well lived.
Deen’s most recent exhibition at Rory Devine Fine Art, entitled The Lyric Escape after a quote by the famous beat poet Laurence Ferlinghetti, represents a compelling journey into a strangely satisfying, entirely surreal landscape where, in the title painting, God dangles from the ethers the diminutive heads of Jimi Hendrix, Lester Bangs and Gene Hackman as a small tree, sporting several sets of drifty eyes that gaze in lazy observance.
Deen is a master of the magical juxtaposition, creating a series of unreliable narratives that feel incredibly necessary — even if they appear at times odd and dystopian. It is the exactitude of her vision that is so striking, and many of the works read like poetical prophesies for the dispossessed. With titles such as “And god said: let’s dangle something down” (2022), Deen calls to mind the false righteousness of the religious right. In the King James Bible, God is constantly proffering up a variety of rules and regulations, and other cruel punishments, most of which subjugate women, requiring them to make huge and often painfully humiliating sacrifices, yet affording them nothing in return except perhaps yet another male child to carry on the family line. The three dangling heads, according to Deen, are intended to elicit such male archetypal figures as ‘the innocent young lover’ (Hendrix) and ‘the violent tyrant’ (Hackman), and as a personal third I would subjectively add in ‘the magician,’ for Lester Bangs.
At the center of the tree is what looks to be a piece of rope, the shape of which echoes the base of the tree below and is vaguely reminiscent of human intestines. The eyes strung from the tree are also suggestive of Picasso’s famous all seeing eye at the top of the painting “Guernica.” In “Guernica,” the eye exists as a warning, or a point of light and knowledge, an indictment against violence and the inherent corruption of the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War. Deen’s eyes are also all-seeing, all-knowing, yet we are not entirely sure what knowledge they possess.
Specific motifs are repeated in Deen’s paintings — that of the veil, the corrupt garden replete with animal head monuments and dying trees. As with lyric poetry, repeated symbols hold meaning, and Deen’s paintings often feel like visual poems. The German poets are resonant with Deen’s aesthetic — the darkly brooding pathos of Paul Celan, the richly textured longing inherent in the works of Rilke, and the simmering violence at the heart of Herta Muller’s prose and poems.
Deen’s painting, “I’ve saved a place in my garden of remorse for you,” is both terrifying and heraldic, as this red garden is lined with strange animal reliquaries. The tree at the center is also a faceless woman wearing pearls and a transparent veil. Where her face should be sits a small Greek relic, alluding again to the patriarchal reality that infuses our world. This work, along with the exhibition title piece, “The Lyric Escape” position women’s bodies at the center of a human maelstrom of grasping hands and elongated arms, each of which is attempting to steal or erase or nullify the woman’s joy and power.
In “The Lyric Escape,” the woman’s face transforms into a beast. She is not seen as typically attractive, nor is she trying to fit into a specific stereotype of feminine beauty. Rather, the silver light that emanates from her body derives from her truest nature, which is untamed and unapologetic. The reaching arms do not in fact ever reach her, but are ghostly presences forever stuck behind bars, i.e., fixed in their predetermined perceptions of how they imagine a woman must look and behave.
Ultimately, this image above all is a celebration of difference, an embracing of weirdness, awkwardness, and divine silence. It is also a shout-out to absurdity. But even more importantly, The Lyric Escape — both the illustration and the exhibition — is a battle cry that insists on the strength and resiliency of the human spirit.
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Featured Image: Georganne Deen, How to prepare people for your weirdness (Painting for a gifted child), 2022.
Eve Wood is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Wood’s poetry and art criticism have appeared in many magazines and journals including Artillery, Whitehot, Art & Cake, The New Republic, The Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Flash Art, Angelino Magazine, New York Arts, The Atlantic Monthly, Artnet.com, Artillery, Tema Celeste, Art Papers, ArtUS, Art Review, and LatinArt.com. She is the author of five books of poetry. Also an artist, her work has been exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter and Western Project and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York. Wood is currently represented by Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles.
Stephen Romano says
georganne deen says
Many besos for those kind words!
Elizabeth charnley says
Beautifully written and explained! You are such a talent beyond realms of consciousness !