at George Billis Gallery, Los Angeles (through 8 October 2022)
Reviewed by Nancy Kay Turner
“Things are not what they seem: nor are they otherwise.”
Margaret Lazzari’s luminous solo exhibition of paintings, entitled Breathing Space, were painted during the pandemic, and the exhibition title is indeed significant. It’s defined as a respite, a hiatus, or an interval where one takes time to recover. The paintings themselves shift seamlessly between abstraction and figuration, observation and invention evoking both delight and anxiety. Her painting process informs this ever-changing perspective that intrigues, confounds and compels the viewer upon sustained investigation of the images.
Lazzaari works on unstretched canvas on the floor, moving around to all four sides, before deciding on a proscribed view. In her masterful hands, space is elastic: it is a living breathing entity – always inhabiting multiple perspectives. “Rock Tracings” is a case in point, seemingly lit from within, with a blue lagoon like shape at the bottom abutting what seems like a shore. The exuberant markings seem to exist in thin air rather than on a dense surface, while the lower left feels like a hardened rock-like surface. Fragments of air, water, and earth all make appearances here in a mysterious oft changing surface.
Weather figures prominently in several works. “Rain” is a spectacular cloud burst over a flat plain, an explosion of tiny brushstrokes cascading down the surface, with pink hued pastel clouds far behind in deep space. In water deprived California, this is a fever dream of a painting, delirious in color with robust mark making. But then one notices the top section, which looks like reflections on a watery surface and turns the image topsy-turvy (creating a surprisingly Escher-like spatial conundrum.)
Seasonal changes are represented here, as in “Winter,” where snowy white patches are melting. Drips showing through light washes of color serve to reinforce the flatness of the picture plane in contrast to the slanting ground which operates as traditional perspective moving back in space – a push-pull effect which gives the viewer “intimations of unease,” to quote Sartre. Are the bare patches normal or are they signs of global warming? While melting snow usually happily heralds the coming Spring, here there is an ambiguity of meaning. Is this the new normal? Should we rejoice in Spring, which is a sign of regeneration and rebirth, or should we be afraid, very afraid, of global warming and its unintended but all-too serious consequences.
Above all, Lazzari is a spectacular colorist, and this is especially the case in the iridescent “Shimmer,” with its glorious sunburst of brilliant oranges and yellows. At first the image looks like water spilling over an edge into a pool or pond. The dark purple sky portends rain. Here, as in most of the paintings, Lazzari plays with our sixth sense, proprioception, which helps us track where we are in space. The sky is above us while the ground is beneath our feet. Gravity rules. But this is rarely the case in a tantalizing Lazzari landscape of the mind, especially here where Lazzari bends space.
With the effervescent “Bubbles,” one is not sure if we are in the water, seeing the bubbles above us and the sun shining through the surface, or if we are looking down at it. No matter, for here there is the sheer delight in bubbles – always a favorite of children and adults wherever and however they occur.
The epic “Untitled (Long Painting)” — which truly breathes and undulates across the floorspace at a monumental fourteen-and-a-half feet! — is Lazzari’s show-stopper. Moving from the left where a mysterious globe exists, there is a flow towards the right as if these squiggly marks are reeds on the surface of a river flowing towards the ocean, or even Paramecium being swept away. This sense of movement, of the speedy flow, is palpable. It speaks to us of tides or currents, or even of wind disturbing the placid surface of river or stream. Both the beauty and danger of the natural world are omnipresent in these works.
Lazzari’s sublime paintings are beautiful and disturbing, calm and agitated, lulling the viewer with intense color and dreamy gesture, while bubbling beneath the surface is a restlessness, an uncertainty. These psychological landscapes perfectly encapsulate the drama of everyday life, the precariousness of living and the existential desire in these troubled times to take breathing space.
Nancy Kay Turner is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Turner is an artist and educator who has written for Artweek, ArtScene, Art and Cake, and Visions Magazine.