Snake Milk Elegy: Works by Lauren Levato Coyne
Until February 9, 2019, closing reception Feb. 9 from 6-9 p.m.
Ars Memoria Gallery
1770 West Berteau Avenue, STE 506, Chicago, IL, 60613, United States
By DANIEL MAIDMAN, JAN. 2018
Those of us who enjoy the comforts of urban civilization tend to develop an asymmetrical awareness of zoological nature. We remain familiar with the astonishing ability of nature to produce beautiful forms. We forget her equal willingness to destroy them.
I am an urban sissy of this sort, and need to be reminded of the horrific nature of nature every so often: finding a stray hoof on the ground, or a gutted pigeon, or the cheerfully indifferent head of a rat. The world of the animals is brutally violent, and bears endless scenes of the undoing of the body. It wouldn’t be so tough to take, except that the animal body is so beautiful, so various in color and form, so ingenious in its marriage of engineering to task. To see it torn apart and thrown away – to comprehend the blank indifference of reality to the survival of its children - is a terrible thing.
In her new body of work, Snake Milk Elegy, Lauren Levato Coyne demonstrates an intense sensitivity to both these facets of nature, to generation and corruption. Her pieces are startlingly large watercolor portraits of animals. They deploy the full magic of the brilliant color of the medium to evoke the beauty of these animal forms. And yet each one is interrupted, as savage predation interrupts an animal’s form. Yarn pours from the broken boundary, replicating the colors of the painting but dragging them forward into tangled low relief.
These images capture the shocking, casual violence of nature, but they are not themselves brutish. They represent violence theatrically, as when choreographed punches land silently in a play, or a thrown red kerchief represents a spray of blood. In Levato Coyne’s work as well, stylization foregrounds artifice. Her yarn represents gore but does not quite resemble it.
In choosing symbolic representation over literal mimesis, Levato Coyne opens up the implied meaning of her work. As in her earlier drawings, each sign becomes multi-layered: beyond the obvious meditation on nature, the work handily does duty as a comparison of nature and the artistic process. Like nature, art assembles raw materials into the most beautiful of forms. Levato Coyne suggests the hand of the artist is forever on a precipice, craving destruction nearly as much as it is inspired by creation. This is a disturbing suggestion about the nature of artistic play and the mind of the artist.
Her work vibrates with overlapping meanings, but it would not be good work if it were not, first and foremost, simply good. Her work just works. This group of pieces reaches out and grabs the viewer’s mind and gut. It is simple, forceful, and vivid. It obtains an amount of attention within which its more subtle qualities have room to emerge. But it gets that attention through riveting prerational imagery. WM
Daniel Maidman is a painter and writer. His art is included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections, among them those of New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, Chicago collector Howard Tullman, Disney senior vice president Jackson George, and Gemini-winning screenwriter Jeremy Boxen. He has produced paintings in collaboration with best-selling novelist China Miéville, award-winning poet Kathleen Rooney, independent film icon Martin Donovan, and noted installation artist Erika Johnson. Maidman’s art and writing on art have been featured in ARTnews, Forbes, Juxtapoz, Whitehot Magazine, Hyperallergic, American Art Collector, International Artist, Poets/Artists, MAKE, Manifest, and The Artist’s Magazine. He blogs for The Huffington Post. He lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.
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