Art Insider: Paintings celebrating everyday beauty and psychedelic sunsets

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Michelle Blade, “Upstream / Sandy River” (detail) (2020). Acrylic ink on poplin, 50 x 40 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran.

Need some art in your life? I’m Lindsay Preston Zappas, KCRW’s Art Insider, and I’m here to curate your art viewing experiences this week.  

This week’s offerings: paintings that blend everyday experiences with the divine; intricately crafted ceramics made with bricks; and portraits made during the pandemic that express a range of emotions. 

Here are our top three picks of what not to miss. 

Michelle Blade at Wilding Cran Gallery


Michelle Blade, “Into the Forest” (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Wilding Cran. 

In Michelle Blade’s solo exhibition of paintings and drawings at Wilding Cran, everyday life meets the supernatural. In her works, families congregate on shorelines, mothers breastfeed, and a quiet breakfast for one becomes a gateway to an otherworldly landscape. Blade’s 2020 work, “Within the Folds, a Seed / Glendale,” showcases this uncanny environment: a breakfast table overlooks a silvery landscape hemmed-in by lush foliage creeping from the painting’s edges. Blade’s paintings use fluid acrylic on poplin, which allows for a watery blending and blooming of color. The paints meld into each other to form cosmic outdoor spaces where her figures recline or explore. While her landscapes appear celestial and imagined, they are actually scenes from around Los Angeles — Glendale, Griffith Park, Verdugo Park— that Blade encounters often, transposing them into the divine via her paint application. Yet in some, the quietness of everyday life is foregrounded. In “Between Rupture and Rapture/ Glendale:” (2020), an unassuming bed topped with a patchwork quilt takes up the bulk of the composition. Through two windows, a psychedelic sunset occurs, yet here, the painting seems less concerned with the majesty of nature and more focused on the sweetness found in mundane moments, like the simple enjoyment found in making the bed. 


Michelle Blade, “Untitled rainbow pencil drawing #9,” (detail) (2020). Rainbow pencil on paper. 12 x 9 inches, 14 x 11 inches framed. 

Though painting is Michelle Blade’s medium of choice, the back wall of the exhibit features a suite of drawings made with rainbow colored pencil. Though the content of the drawings — a mother propping her child up to pick fruit off a tree, a woman sitting peacefully next to her dog — is similar to the paintings, separated from the fluidness of her paint, the drawings have a more personal quality to them. I reached out to Blade to ask her about the intimate moments that these drawings capture. “There is an ambiguity to the fluid nature of paint that I enjoy, and by contrast, an innate specificity and immediacy that drawing contains,” Blade said. “The drawings in the show are quick and gestural, and often made in real-time. I’m sketching in a park, watching my children play in my yard, or looking at strangers and soaking in the energy from a distance... The paintings are more of an amalgamation of experiences. Events I’ve collected and then compiled into an image later.”

On view: November 14th – December 19th 

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“Pauli & Paules” at La Loma Projects


“Pauli & Paules” at La Loma Projects. (Pictured: Jude Pauli, installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and La Loma Projects. Photo by Moses Berkson.

Recently I visited La Loma Projects, a gallery located in a home in Pasadena, just as the golden hour was casting a warm hue over Jude Pauli’s ceramic sculptures. Installed throughout the back garden, the pieces are modernist compositions that the artist makes by stacking interlocking ceramic forms. Pauli makes her own clay and adds brick and other materials into her clay mix to create a warm earthen surface across these geometric and subtly figurative works. In a small garage-turned-gallery space, Adrian Paules’ minimal aluminum panel pieces complement Pauli’s with their simple and deceptive handmade quality. While they appear to be machine-refined, the artist actually crafts these works by sanding the aluminum panels by hand, slowly creating oscillating bands of reflexive surfaces. Together, the two artists share a dedication to material and a minimal aesthetic that’s buffered by an intimate handmade quality. 

On view: October 18–November 29, 2020

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Georgina Gratrix at Nicodim


Georgina Gratrix, “Quarantine Look,” (detail) (2020). Oil on canvas 28 x 23.6 inches. 
All images are Courtesy of the Artist and Nicodim Gallery.

At Nicodim, Georgina Gratrix’s figures and still-lifes have a gloopy impasto paint application. The faces of her figures ride a line between comical and slightly disturbing. Swabs of thick paint fold into disfigured personhood: melting noses, multiple sets of eyes, large textural gashes across cheeks. Some even have googly eyes embedded in the thick paint. Many of the paintings are intimate self-portraits or paintings of loved ones, but unlikely celebrities, politicians, and athletes including Scottie Pippen — appear in the mix. The upstairs gallery shows a series of self-portraits called “Nine Weeks.” She made each portrait over two months in early-pandemic, while the artist experienced a military-enforced quarantine in South Africa. The emotions represented on the artist’s face move from shock to despair to self-care to utter bewilderment — a familiar range of emotions felt in lockdown. 

On view: October 24 – November 25, 2020

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“Made in L.A. 2020: a version” (installation view at The Hammer). Pictured: works by Monica Majoli and Reynaldo Rivera. Photo by Joshua White.  

Closer Look: “Made in L.A.” is open… kind of

Made in L.A. is the much-anticipated Hammer Museum biennial, which features emerging artists with strong Los Angeles roots. This year’s iteration, “Made in L.A. 2020: a version,” curated by Lauren Mackler and Myriam Ben Salah, features 30 artists who work in painting, sculpture, video, photography, installation, and dance. For the first time, the Hammer Museum is splitting the show across two venues. All 30 artists are on view at both the Hammer Museum and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.  

The exhibition — which was slated to open in June, but only just opened to the press last week — is still not open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions on museums. While there are some works that viewers can experience outside of the museum space — for example, people can drive to various locations around LA to see billboards from artist Larry Johnson or stream videos from Kahlil Joseph and Ligia Lewis — the majority of the exhibition is not accessible to the public, and little digital adaptation has been made to bridge that gap. I talked to Steve Chiotakis about the exhibition, and when the public can expect access to the show. 

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