Artworks that blend natural world with a minimal edge

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This week’s picks include an artist who blends natural forms cast from nature with minimal geometrics; photographs that highlight human connection; and paintings that explore landscapes both bodily and natural. 

Michael Henry Hayden at Moskowitz Bayse

Michael Henry Hayden, “Waiting for Canyon’s Echo,” installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and Moskowitz Bayse. 

A few years ago, Michael Henry Hayden and his partner Anthony led me and a small group of friends on a magical night hike in Angeles National Forest — the two frequent trails in the area. Now, Hayden is using the forest as fodder for a new series of sculptures, literally. The works in his new show “Waiting for the Canyon’s Echo” are made from silicone casts of natural materials — rocks, plants, trees — both domestic and wild. For “Plein Air” — a flawless painting fading from creamy orange to white that is encased by two large rock faces — Hayden went into Angeles Forest and made a cast of a granite cliff face (!!), then took the mold back to his studio to cast a replica. Hayden tells me that small bits of granite from the cliff face got stuck in the silicone mold and made their way into the final piece; another layer of trompe-l'oeil. Across the show, these natural casts are hemmed in by minimal geometric shapes, flat colors, and gradients that take on a slickness akin to the Light and Space movement; these sharp lines are at odds with the natural wildness contained in each work. In “Leaflet (Anthurium),” the ribs of a luscious leaf cut diagonally across the square artwork. One half of the kelly green leaf flutters up past the artwork edge while the other half is bluntly truncated to form the square artwork’s edge. The exhibition at once reveres nature’s splendor and highlights the way that we try to control, mimic, and mold nature within our contemporary world. Hayden explains that “experiencing nature is never exactly a pure experience. It always involves folding our knowledge, expectations, or our personal imagination onto the experience, and this collision is one of the phenomena that I’m exploring in this work.”

Mimicking Nature and Recording Time

Michael Henry Hayden, “Thicket,” 2020. Oil and aquaresin, 40 1/2 x 71 x 4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Moskowitz Bayse. 

At first, the wall-bound piece, “Thicket” in Hayden’s exhibition is not quite identifiable. It looks almost like a rib cage or some kind of animalian husk. 

The piece was in fact made from a “money plant,” — the houseplant whose trunk is trained into a braid — with what Hayden calls a “scrolling cast.” Hayden explains, “I painted an incomplete rubber mold onto the plant, and before peeling the mold completely away, continued the process over and over again. I’m drawn to the slightly perverse act of imposing a geometric pattern to a natural form, and have taken that impulse a step further by repeating the braid into a continuing unfolding pattern.” Hayden then painted each strand of the braid in various gradients of blue — he explains that the bold painting on the trunk “[furthers] the original gesture to braid the plant by transforming it into a sort of large tapestry that hovers between something completely artificial and something wholly organic. I’m interested in exploring a new way that bark and botanical growth can record time. Instead of the concentric rings of a tree, here the repetitive patterning suggests a different marker of the passage of time. Like the tradition of bonsai, this represents a collaboration between the natural form of a plant’s structure, time, and human intervention.”

On view: February 13-March 20, 2021

Johanna Breiding at Ochi Projects

Johanna Breiding, “Playing Submarine” at Ochi Projects (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Ochi Projects.

At Ochi Projects, a string of small photographs span the walls, arranged in a line as if to read them linearly like text. (The pictures are grouped into sets of one, two, or three, little sentences within a larger paragraph.) The imagery is evocative, pictorial, ephemeral — like small unseen moments that were secretly captured. In one set of images, a man’s bald head is seen emerging from a rippling pool of water. This is paired with an image of the spiraling tube of a pool vacuum, the end of which juts into an open hole near the edge of the pool. The two images tug on the same connective essence — there is the visual mirroring of circles and water in each — and the rest of the images in the exhibition continue this strand of moody connection building as you walk around the space. A boiling pot of milk on the stove next to an open mouth dripping with milk; a snow-covered mountain made with construction paper next to a blooming cloud formation. In contrast, the back gallery features a collection of vessels made by the artist, each a unique organic form, arranged on a long table. Lit incense and beeswax candles give the arrangement a ritual vibe while also eliciting a dinner party. Together, the organic vessels paired with the evocative photographs point to a kind of bodily intimacy. They make magic out of the small everyday moments — memories made while gathering with others — that we have all come to desperately miss.  

On view: February 6–March 20, 2021 

Emma McIntyre  at Chris Sharp Gallery 

Emma McIntyre, “The problem of vivacity,” 2020. Oil, oil stick and acrylic on linen, 56 x 64 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Chris Sharp Gallery.

In Mid-City, Chris Sharp, the former proprietor of Mexico City’s Lulu, has just opened up a new gallery space, the outside of which is painted a lush sky blue. Inside, Emma McIntyre’s paintings evoke a different type of landscape—her abstract works swirl with various brush marks, scrapes and drips, and subtly elicit landscapes both earthen and bodily. Each is layered with rich underpainting, then an array of painterly moves (washes of color, dripping pools of paint, small staccato brush marks, impressions made from tools used to carefully rake paint away). A close look reveals the artist’s own body imprinted on the surface of a couple of paintings; rogue thumbs and limbs that were pressed into the painting as if just another method of mark-making. Like Sharp’s own bright blue exterior, each of McIntyre’s paintings play with light — in several, a series of painted dabs churn around a glowing underlayer, creating tunnel-like depth that pulls you into each surface and its myriad of juicy details. The works teeter between the body, landscape, and abstraction, ultimately uncovering a porous space between the three. 

On view: January 23 to March 6, 2021 

Closer Look

Installation photograph, “Cauleen Smith: Give It Or Leave It,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2020–21, © Cauleen Smith, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

The inside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been closed to the public because of the pandemic and construction, and parts of LACMA have been demolished to make way for a new structure that will grace Wilshire Boulevard. But there’s still some new art inside. The museum just installed several shows, which will be up through next October (and hopefully open to the public soon). I talked to Steve Chiotakis about several new shows that I got a sneak peak for last week. Exhibitions include Cauleen Smith’s installation, “Give It or Leave It;” “NOT I: Throwing Voices” which involves work from LACMA’s collection from 1500 BCE to 2020, combining prehistoric objects with contemporary artworks; and a solo show by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara

Listen to a sneak peek of these shows