Born in St. Petersberg, Russia, artist Lena Moross is a true force in the Los Angeles art scene. With the characteristic vibrance she shows in so much of her lush work, she’s tackling a trenchant subject: what being transgender really means. In her upcoming solo exhibition, For the Love of Carmine, opening June 11th at MuzeuMM, Moross creates a social narrative.
Her beautifully colorful, finely detailed, impressionistic watercolor work is used here to create an immersive experience of what it’s like to grow up as a transgender male in the early post-war years. Her large-scale paintings demand repeat viewings: the very feminine, voluptuous curves and her emphasis on fluid strokes and shapes create a richly fertile landscape to explore what it’s like to be a woman inside a man’s body. A staged video is also included in the exhibit, which creates a deep dialog between the subject of her works here, Carmine, and the artist herself, as an untold narrative spills forth.
The artist was captivated by the real Carmine Messina, whom she met on a Hollywood street corner three years ago. Tall, heavy-set, and middle-aged, Messina was heavily made up and dressed in a woman’s black coat, fishnet stockings, mid-calf boots and sporting a long, jet-black wig. Moross was struck by Carmine’s gentle demeanor and his obliviousness to the effect he was causing. The artist introduced herself and began a conversation that led to recorded conversations, videos, photographs, paintings, and sketches. Using these resources, she set about exploring, through her art, the ordeal of being transgender in the late 1940s, born into a middle class San Fernando Valley family.
Her revealing, sensual paintings tell a long hidden story, one that exposes and gently honors what had been concealed and riddled with shame. While social change is slowly creating a space for transgendered people, their long hidden stories can be difficult to reveal and depict. Moross tells Messina’s story with dignity, humor, and a translucent grace, qualities which are representative of all of Moross’ recent work.
Her pieces have a dream-like, almost floating quality, their fluid lines and the incorporation of floral images and colors making her work as intense as it is delicate.
In this exhibition, Messina, clad in a simple aqua smock, poses in feminine grace, shy and almost transcending his girth; or Moross positions him nude, with a jubilant, blooming bouquet of red roses masking his genitalia.
Whether raising a glass of ruby wine, reclining against the coiled cocoon of a red quilt, or performing opera in a yellow tunic, the figure that Moross captures is at once bulky and beautiful, poised and awkward, always fluid and feminine. She casts what it means to be a woman – that particular state of grace, longing, and sensuous shape, in a fresh light.
Moross fuses male and female, form and the softest of function. You can almost feel the draped cloths, smell and touch the soft rose petals. It’s no surprise the Moross is skilled at this kind of fusion. Moving from Russia to the U.S., she studied classical art at the State Academy of Art in Russia. In America, she studied at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design as a student of Peter Lyashkov, earned her master’s at Cal-Arts, and was a student of John Baldessari and John Borofsky.
Her fine art skills and her wonderfully interpretive, fantastical bent have meshed just as surely and resiliently as her international heritage has fused with a strong, brash sense of American freedom.
In For the Love of Carmine, Moross expresses freedom, repression, fantasy, joy, and a spirit that longs to break loose from its confines. A truly masterful solo show, by an artist who is taking flight with story and shape.
4817 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Opening reception June 11, 7-11pm
- Genie Davis; Photos: Shoebox PR