Marisa Takal: Beyond Oy Too Scared to Ha-Ha,
Night Gallery, Los Angeles
December 2, 2017 - January 13, 2018
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, DEC. 2017
Marisa Takal’s current exhibition at Night Gallery in Los Angeles has a title that suggests comedy and politics. But all that “too scared to laugh” energy has been sublimated into delightful, awkwardly pastoral, eccentrically flat urban and rural landscapes -- a refreshing alternative to the emotionally intense didactic that often comes with political art. Instead, Takal’s inventive quasi-natural color schemes, pointedly naive rendering, and passages of edgier post-modern detail combine to evoke a general state of emotional constraint, wary humor, and paradoxical pictorial space. It is the very embodiment of the current zeitgeist of unease. And it’s also an influential moment of discourse on the state of landscape painting, which as a general matter is enjoying an allegorical rather than a literal moment. Landscape is one of the easiest genres to bend into metaphorical motifs, and these fraught times have prompted what these paintings deliver.
Takal achieves a sincere sort of irony in both her narrative and her aesthetic; very pretty and a bit under the weather. Her palette seems almost psychological; derived from naturalism but inflected with mood. There’s a sensibility approaching classic New England folk art in Takal’s style, albeit run through the double filter of surrealism and a low-key anxiety attack. Her scenes of patchwork fields, spindly fences, occasional animals, trees, what could be a river, and her symphony of tertiary greens combines for this effect, as well as the sophisticated but unselfconsciously schematic renderings. A few more urban or at least “in town” scenes are still tethered to the picturesque, as well as to a grid of roads and architecture. Her picture planes are compressed both vertically and horizontally, stacked rather than receding, and divided by networks of boundaries, fences, ley lines, and other kinds of borders. It begs the question, between what and what? City and country? Agriculture and industry? Purity and corruption? Love and fear? Us and them? Life and death? Me and you...?
These border fences divide the image’s universe, but from the viewer’s point of view, even as they parse up the space, they literally stitch the composition together, like big games of Chutes & Ladders, or surgery scars. There are relatively few figures in the pictures, and those that appear are rendered in swift, raw strokes that suggest rather than depict. They straddle economies of scale and spatial organization, bridging incompatibilities, like a Fauvist Escher. Viewed as a collection, their internal spatial logic rather takes over; the vertigo subsides, her world becomes familiar. By the time you leave the gallery, it’s the real world that has stopped making sense. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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