Lauren Mendelsohn Bass: Art Noir

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The work of Los Angeles-based artist Lauren-Mendelsohn-Bass feels uniquely, passionately a part of L.A. itself. Perhaps that focus is due to the strong noir style of her figurative paintings. Film noir is deeply embedded in the culture of the City of Angels, and her art, with its noir narrative focus, is equally emblematic of the artist’s hometown.

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Mendelsohn-Bass has a sleek, seductive, highly sensual style to her work, and in each piece lies a wonderfully furtive element. It’s unusual and absorbing to see the way in which the artist creates a sense of tension and conflict, evokes a story that begins, as with any good noir screenplay, in the middle of things. Secret glances, the arch of a brow, the clasp of a hand, all of these convey psychological heft, the internal conveyed through external actions. This is the stuff of noir and of Mendelsohn-Bass’ lush, large scale art.

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Working in oil on canvas, Mendelsohn-Bass most often shapes works that are a combination of images, a consolidated, single-canvas triptych reminiscent of individual frames of film. Sometimes images are monochromatic, others are full color. There is a recurrent use of bright food images combined with darker images of people, sometimes in motion, sometimes in conversation. To unpack all of the visual metaphors in each of her works takes repeated viewings.

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Take “Preparations,” below, with the top of half of the work featuring four women. Three are sepia-toned, softly realistic figures; the fourth is the most dominant, a highly stylized, comic book-like black and white image. In each case, the women are in motion and in profile. The realistic renderings are in various stages of undress; the cartoon image is busily scrubbing a pan, frowning. Each of these women is preparing for something just out of sight, whether concealed visually by the artist or hidden, internalized by the subjects. The lower portion of the canvas is in full color. A plate of partially hidden, and in their own way, equally mysterious, cupcakes. A woman diving deep into blue water. What appears to be chocolate cake, with one slice missing.

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To the viewer, all but the cartoon-like image of the woman scrubbing her pan are sensual. The semi-nude renderings of the women painted in sepia tone, the curve and shadow of the female swimmer, the lush imagery of the desserts – all are a physical manifestation of longing, desire, reach perhaps exceeding grasp.  That dominant image, the black and white comic-book-like woman is scrubbing what exactly? Just a pan? A blood stain? The longing for more from her life? Is she removing the memories of the other images?

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Above, “Pick Your Poison” follows a similar artistic trajectory,  juxtaposing four images, interconnected.  A softly focused, sepia-toned man reads a newspaper, smoke from an unseen cigarette resting in an unsettling cloud around him. A comic-book-style image of a man writhing on the ground, his form almost immediately raising the specter of unseen bullets or a hard fall. Empty thought bubbles emanate from his frame. Here the dominant image is a full-color cup of coffee being poured,  next to which the profile of a sepia-toned woman offers a tentative half smile, as if daring the viewer to ask her what exactly she is up to or what is going on here.  The correlation between reading the news, smoking, an injury, coffee, and the seemingly benign glance of a woman is up to the viewer: perhaps the woman is pulling all the strings here, or perhaps it is an unseen woman, one whose manicured hand is pouring the coffee, who is the ultimate in hidden puppet-master.

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Above, with “Full Service,” we have again a mouth-watering dessert, this one lemon meringue pie, an unseen woman – here, with her hands wrapped around a partially observable man’s neck, and a tray of realistic cocktails born by a stylized black and white comic book character. Would the full service of the title represent dining service from cocktails to dessert? Or would it include the potential homicide of the man?

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With “Call Me,” above, the artist’s intent seems entirely clear – a woman is cajoling a phone call from an unseen suitor with her friendly if a touch avid profiled smile, her seductive legs, her Marilyn-esque face and nude body, and center-stage, a very noir-era dessert, what appears to be Cherries Jubilee.

As with all Mendelsohn-Bass paintings, the urge to decipher them from the clues she leaves is as strong as the urge to simply admire, take the work in, appreciate the restlessness and desire her art captures. The noir in her visual stories is based around relationships; she is the hardboiled detective uncovering the detours and illusions of a case, the subtle and not-so-subtle actions of a femme fatale, the idea of what a femme fatale is, and the role’s feminist implications.

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As in her “Untitled” work above, Mendelsohn-Bass uses the female form, vibrant desserts – which have a highly sensual quality, and images that both literally and figuratively “dive in” to new psychological territory to examine the nuances of relationships. Of very LA-relationships, with our obsessions about the perfect body, the perfect appearance, the ultimately sinful dessert.

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – eat your hearts out.

Mendelsohn-Bass may very well be the quintessential purveyor of contemporary noir story telling, with one picture being indeed worth a thousand words.

  • Genie Davis; photos provided by Kristine Schomaker

WeHo Artes Starts “In West Hollywood”

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The City of West Hollywood is celebrating the Getty Foundation initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA with WeHo Artes.  This special program encompasses exhibitions funded by The Getty, and additional original projects featuring Latin American and Latino art presented by the city of West Hollywood. Celebrated throughout West Hollywood, WeHo Artes events are about to start soaring. With an exciting exhibition of works by Ramiro Gomez and David Feldman, presented in association with the Charlie James Gallery, and an interactive, site-specific theater piece, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta, as centerpieces, there’s no lack of fantastic arts events in the program, which is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s  WeHo Arts  program.

On Wednesday the 23rd, WeHo Artes events kick off with the opening reception for In West Hollywood, the work of Gomez and Feldman.

In West Hollywood is not Gomez’ first project with the city of West Hollywood. In 2012, the artist worked on Install: WeHo, an LGBTQ pop-up art village that included the artist’s creation of large cardboard cut-outs that included movers, a couch, and a valet. Even before his official collaboration with the city, Gomez had made visual waves placing cardboard cut-out figures around West Hollywood, art focusing on the “invisible” workers such as gardeners. After installation, Gomez left the pieces where they were placed, symbols of the forgotten work of domestic laborers. A West Hollywood resident, the artist is well known for addressing immigration issues, and illuminating the domestic labor forces around Los Angeles. Photographic artist and filmmaker Feldman, his collaborator on the upcoming In West Hollywood, documented the cutouts, and these unique photos are a part of the new exhibition.  Feldman’s  short film Los Olvidades covered Ramiro Gomez’s creation and installation of a work in Arizona’s Sonoran desert, and was the winner of the Oxford Film Festival in 2015.

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Above: (c) 2015 Ramiro Gomez, “Mulholland Drive: On the Road to David’s Studio (after David Hockney’s Mullholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980)

With Gomez and Feldman’s work presented together in this new exhibition, the installation serves as a powerful and impactful statement on the influence of Latin America in the culture and art of Los Angeles. Included in the exhibition will be a never-before-seen commissioned painting from Gomez. Adding to the reception celebration is the live music of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, the world’s first LGBTQ mariachi group. The reception and exhibition will be held at the West Hollywood Library.

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Photo credit: Otis Woods

Another WeHo Artes highlight is the commissioned performance of the Rogue Artists Ensemble’s interactive, site-specific theater performance, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta.  Using a heady mix of tall-tales, puppets, masks, and music, the play celebrates the 75th anniversary of the 1942 book Señor Plummer: The Life and Laughter of an Old-Californian.  Written by former Los Angeles Times writer John Preston Buschlen, the book documents interviews with Eugene Plummer, or Don Eugenio, a Spanish-American pioneer whose family once owned 942 acres of land in the area. Considered West Hollywood’s first resident, Don Eugenio is a fascinating, larger than life figure. Rogue Artists will workshop the play with an open rehearsal on August 19,  and offer performances with full readings, sets and costumes August 24-26th in Plummer Park,  the site of Don Eugenio’s last residence.

Of course, WeHo Artes offers other stellar programming as well, with PST LA/LA Getty Foundation-Funded Projects sited in West Hollywood presented by LAND, LAXART, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, and MAK Center for Art and Architecture.

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Photo credit: Sense of Place Artist Render, Estudio Jose Dávila, 2017

Jose Dávila’s Sense of Place presented by LAND, the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, is a commissioned work by the Guadalajara-based artist, a multi-site, large-scale, public sculpture exhibition which invites viewers into an experiential view of LA’s diverse urban landscape. The work paints a portrait of the city’s experiences, geographies, and histories.  A nine-foot square interactive sculpture made up of 40 unique modular forms will be installed in West Hollywood Park, with an opening on September 16th. The sculptural work will be disassembled and reconfigured at three different public sites during the exhibition, which runs through May 2018.  With each reimagining, scheduled for November, January, and March,  the piece will take on a changed functional shape. It will return to both its original whole cube shape and the West Hollywood Park location in April 2018. The piece is Dávila’s largest public work, and his first major exhibition in Los Angeles.

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Pável Aguilar, Retransmisión (Retransmission), 2011. Color video. Courtesy Pável Aguilar

LAXART presents Video Art in Latin America, the first substantive U.S. survey on this subject, moving from the late 1960s to the present. The exhibition will be held at LAXART’s Santa Monica Blvd. location. The show moves from early video experiments in South America expressing dissent in an era of repressive military regimes, to the ways in which contemporary video artists discuss subjects such as labor, ecology, migration, and issues of identity and the consequences of social inequality. These single-channel video programs will be accompanied by a selection of dimensional environmental video installations.

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Photo credit: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives Gallery

Also on tap for WeHo Artes will be Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA, presented by ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives Gallery at the USC Libraries and exhibited at the ONE Gallery, West Hollywood and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center September 9 to December 31, 2017. Co-curated by C. Ondine Chavoya, professor of art and Latina/o studies at Williams College, and David Evans Frantz, curator at ONE Archives, the exhibition features over 40 LGBTQ and Chicano artists with experimental works in a variety of mediums. Pieces created between the 1960s and early 1990s include works by LGBTQ and Chicano artists, many of whom passed away due to the AIDS crisis. Artist Edmundo “Mundo” Meza (1955-1985), who collaborated with many of the featured artists, will be a focal point of the exhibition.

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Photo credit: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

And at the Mak Center for Art and Architecture’s Schindler House,  How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney will be presented by MAK Center for Art and Architecture and Luckman Gallery at Cal State L.A. Over 150 works by 48 Latin American artists challenge nearly 100 years of cultural influence between Latin America and Disney. The exhibition, curated by writer and filmmaker Jesse Lerner and artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres explores the idea that there are no clean boundaries between art, culture, and geography. The large scale exhibition will have its reception at Schindler House September 9th, and will be split between that location and the Luckman Gallery on the Cal State LA campus.

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Photo credit: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

The Chase, a large-scale multi-piece sculpture is created by Los Angeles-based artist HACER, and will be installed on Santa Monica Boulevard east of Doheny Drive; and later in the year, Queer Califas: LA Latinx Art, will open in November at Plummer Park’s Long Hall.  Both projects are part of the City’s Art of the Outside public art program. 

For more information on WeHo Artes: http://weho.org/residents/weho-arts-and-culture/west-hollywood-celebrates-pacific-standard-time-2017

For more information on PST LA/LA, an inclusive and wide-ranging exploration of Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles held throughout Southern California, and supported by the Getty Foundation, visit: http://www.pacificstandardtime.org/ 

In West Hollywood, an exhibition of works by West Hollywood-based artists Ramiro Gomez and David Feldman will be shown at the West Hollywood Library (625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069) The opening reception will be August 23 from 7-9PM; the event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required; to RSVP, contact: nschonwetter@weho.org.

Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta will be performed at an open rehearsal August 19,  (drop in anytime between 1-4PM), and performances with full readings, sets and costumes on August 24, 25 and 26 at 7PM in Plummer Park(7377 Santa Monica Blvd., 90046) – the site of Don Eugenio’s last residence.  Seating is limited; to reserve tickets RSVP at https://www.rogueartists.org/senor-plummers-final-fiesta – guests are asked to pay what they can to join the fiesta, with a suggested minimum donation of $5.00.

  • Genie Davis; photos courtesy of the city of West Hollywood

Taking Found Art to the Highest Level: Diverted Destruction 10 – The Alumni Show at Loft at Liz’s

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Above, gallerist Liz Gordon in her give-away installation room.

Through September 6th at Loft at Liz’s, the 10th annual Diverted Destruction exhibition is the perfect example that one person’s detritus is another’s – art treasure. Curated by gallery owner Liz Gordon, the show features the work of a number of renowned Liz’s exhibition alums: Aaron Kramer, Charles Dickson, Dale Brockman Davis, Dani Dodge, Dave Lovejoy, Doug Pearsall, Joe Davidson, Joe Sims, June Diamond, Mike Saijo, Pamela Grau, Rosalyn Myles, Ruben Acosta, Steve Olson, Teresa Tolliver and Terri Hartman.

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Over 60 artists have participated in the show over the years, whose mission it’s been to inspire people to be creative with items that would otherwise be thrown away. This year’s show asked participating artists to create works with the waste of items they personally use and customarily discard. Another change in this year’s show: while giveaway tables filled with found-art items Gordon collects have always been a part of the show, this year, Gordon installed a Projects Room Giveaway Installation as a part of the exhibition space. 

“I love doing installations. This year instead of throwing all the items out on tables, I decided to create an installation that resembles a store with all the items that I am responsible for disposing of. Everyday it is replenished because box lots come to the store everyday.When the show ends I find teachers to give all that is left.
The collection for the following year starts immediately, piling up in my garage or in The Artist Boxes until the last Saturday of June when there is the Diverted Destruction Opening Reception for that year,” Gordon asserts.

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Discussing what led her to start a found materials show and give away in the first place, Gordon explains “I’m passionate about this show. I believe it is important to be aware of how much garbage each one of us creates.  It is vital that we as consumers do the best we can to minimize the amount of landfill material we create.”

As the owner of Liz’s Antique Hardware as well as the gallery, Gordon has access to backlots with items that would otherwise be tossed; these are items she offers as part of the giveaway collection. “Many items that come in are broken, too new or not relevant to the store.  There is a section in the back alley of the store that we have always called The Artist Boxes.  That is where these types of items accumulate throughout the year,” she relates. “The first year I did Diverted Deconstruction, I thought to put those items on tables and give it away to anyone that may want to create Found Object Assemblage. A couple examples of the type of items that come in frequently are half hinges which are incomplete, another are damaged vintage glass doorknobs.”

Gordon says she decided to make her found art show an annual event immediately after holding the first one.

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“I saw the positive response to the works that were created and everyone had a great time picking through the heaps of giveaway finds.   By the third year, a free Assemblage Workshop was added.  Artists from the show are asked to come to guide those in attendance. This year we have had four workshops.”

Upcoming on August 19th from 2 to 4 p.m., artist Dani Dodge instructs.

“I also collect throughout the year my personal refuse to put in the giveaway.   Corks, bottle caps, magazines and much much more.  I often find items in the garbage.   The fabric stores in the area give me their sample books.. After I saw one of the stores throwing them in the dumpster I went around asking the stores for them instead of throwing them away.  They are delighted to have a place that they will be
used instead of being thrown away.  Artists need materials!” she enthuses.

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While Gordon is thrilled with each work in the current show, she says her favorites are Aaron Kramer’s kinetic toys and Charles Dickson’s feet.  “They are so clever and so much fun,” she says.

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Dickson’s mixed media left and right foot “Carbon Footprint” features a wide variety of colorful ephemera incased in plastic.

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Kramer’s toys include “Differential” which utilizes Pelegrino bottles to create a gravity-assisted fascinating motion sculpture. His “Intense Wood” is an artistic pinball machine.

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Dani Dodge’s “The Last Lamenting Kiss” utilizes items left over from her room-size installation “Personal Territories at Lancaster MOAH gallery, including mattress skin, stencils, fabric, thread, and even some of the boxes from the frozen meals she consumed while creating her work.

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Frozen food boxes, wedding dress tulle, and battery operated holiday lights are her medium in “I love you until the end of plastic.” Her glowing, dimensional wall sculptures are like celestial orbs in the gallery space.

The mixed media “All Lives/Black Lives Matter” offers Braille inscription on an otherworldly LP; Michael Hayden offers a series of encaustic and mixed media works that shimmer with blues and copper and aquamarine.

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June Diamond’s recycled glass, paint, and steel sculptures have an ethereal look; contrastingly, the pieces also evoke anchors as art form, utilizing chains and design angles that feel rooted.

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Pamela Grau’s sculptural works utilize tennis nets and metallic patina as well as other found objects, creating works that like her “Nubia” feel like icons from an ancient time.

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Ruben Acosta’s “At the Cross” and “Bits and Pieces” focus on wood among its found objects, the pieces feel burnished and ancient.

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Terri Hartman’s large scale chicken wire, newspaper, paper, and organdy thread “And Women Weep” resembles a suspended Egyptian sarcophagus.

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Indeed, there is a sense of reverence and elegy – as well as playfulness, an interesting and complementary dichotomy – in each of these works.

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In short, go for the art exhibited, attend a workshop, and stay for the long term in an awakened awareness of human wastefulness – and how we can utilize that waste to create something beautiful.

  • Genie Davis; photos courtesy of the gallery and Genie Davis

 

 

Val Kilmer: His Latest Role as an Artist in Gabba Gallery Pop-Up

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Most people know Val Kilmer for his film and theater roles, but there’s a new part in Kilmer’s dramatic quiver that is less familiar to his fans – that of artist.

“I’ve developed strong and nuanced themes in my art from acting and performance that relate to iconic images or ideas – so there’s a thread of the icon and the Iconographic throughout the exhibition,” Kilmer said of his four day pop-up at Gabba Gallery in late July.

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While the artist’s renown certainly piqued interest in the exhibition, the power of his work more than stood for itself. In Icon Go On, I’ll Go On, Kilmer creates a series of icons – iconic characters he portrayed; icon-like abstract images with a strong spiritual bent, and words representing and directed at the icon that is “GOD.”

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The exhibition title itself refers to lines in Samuel Beckett’s 1953 novel, Unnamable — “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Kilmer, who resides and has a studio in New Mexico, is making his own existential declaration, having survived and healed from a run in with oral cancer. While healing, he created art.

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Divided into three main sections, the work was highly spiritual in nature. Using metal panels as canvas for his acrylics and laser cut works, some images are representational, some abstract. All in all, there were over 100 works on display, including sculptural pieces.

According to gallery owner Jason Ostro, “There is a lot of meaning to his work. Val is a very deep guy.  Super kind and extremely creative, it’s been a pleasure to work with him,” he notes.

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First up were a series of representational works with himself as a character  – Doc Holliday, Batman. Using stencils, he depicts these mythic images in an easily recognizable way, yet somehow the images are deeper than what we see on the surface. There is something otherworldly about them, as if the person who was portraying these figures were hovering just beyond the visual frame.

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Kilmer’s abstract works were beautifully colored, evoking images of the universe seen through a telescope, the stuff of ethereal, vivid dreams. Painted on metal with a black background, the shiny base of these layered, richly colored works pulls the eye deeper into the painting. Described as having a “blackhole” quality by Kilmer, there is the sense of seeing into another dimension. If the artist’s depiction of his character personas felt as if another being was hovering “off camera,” here, the viewer feels as if a different spiritual plane was floating just out of reach.

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The third section of the exhibition featured large laser-cut metal panels of the word “GOD.” Individual panels were grouped together, inviting viewers to viscerally see and connect with the word and the meaning of God. Groupings of some sixteen of these panels were paired with individual panels; others featured personal, handwritten thoughts, meditative exercises.
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There was even a neon piece created by Kilmer, a kindly commandment.
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Ostro relates that the show came about when a patron of the gallery who loved the energetic vibe of the space brought the gallery to the attention of Kilmer’s staff. “One of Val’s ‘people’ came to initially see the gallery, and after a few hours of talking and laughing, they loved it. I was told if Val was interested, he would be at the gallery sometime the next day.  I opened the doors at noon, and he was standing there eager to check out the space.  After talking for a few hours he said he’d get back to me, and a couple days later, we were planing his art show for July.”
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Above, gallerist Jason Ostro.

Kilmer fans and art lovers take note: the new exhibition opening Saturday August 12th at Gabba, Cratedigger 2, features several works by Kilmer in the second iteration of a terrific show that pays homage to the art of the record sleeve. Over a hundred international and local artists will be exhibiting.

Ostro adds that a smaller, solo show of Kilmer’s is already being planned for 2018.

  • Genie Davis; photos: courtesy of Gabba Gallery and by Genie Davis