Gravitas at the Brand Museum



Gravitas, running through August 5th at the Brand Museum in Glendale features five Los Angeles area artists: Carlos Beltran-Arechiga, Nicholette Kominos, Melissa Manfull, Kristan Marvell and Sonja Schenk in a stunning show that takes on perception: both the viewer’s and the artist’s.  With works that include painting, installation, and sculpture, the artists create work that express the physicality of weight and gravity, and present a deeper interpretation of what the viewer perceives.


Sonja Schenk’s work here is about the perception of time. “Past, future, present – from different eras, but sharing the same sky,” she explains.  She has constructed works that show the transitional intersection of human life and the natural world, depicting a variety of landscapes that “conduct the past into the future.”

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Schenk is half Swiss and lived in France attending art school, a background which has led her to certain visual cues for this exhibition. Her paintings here are created using an acrylic background and oil foreground. “I don’t usually use acrylic, but I wanted a flat, matte pastel background.”

“I paint deliberately and take photos. The Mountain was inspired both by the Alps and being an artist in residence at Mt. Shasta/Whiskeytown. I went out to Lassen a lot. Many of my pieces here depict geologic time and time itself, a deeper exploration about what happens in the course of biological time. There’s the idea of new growth, and if mountains were growing what they would like,” the artist says.

Her sculptures are created in styrofoam. Schenk’s worlds survey existing landscapes, manmade materials and the cumulative, unnatural growth specific to Los Angeles.


Carlos Beltran-Arechiga’s work is born from Abstract Expressionism and Geometrism, revealing aspects of his training as an architectural and environmental designer. The structures he paints use materials that are as much at home on a construction site as in an art studio, and explore space that we can study but not live in.


“I’ll use one singular plane in a digital program that folds out into two spaces for architecture. I create what seems to be a structure, and then I walk through it, and transfer it to two images with a familiar background. I suggest the idea of human form.”


Kristan Marvell’s vivid light pieces explore the natural and man’s manipulation of it, creating shapes that do not specifically replicate natural formations, but rather sculptural planes, and emotional imagery. With this work, below, Marvell had to rent programmable LED lights to move beyond the conceptual into a captivating installation, Color Theory.


“We set the lights with this effect so that the shadow becomes opposite the primary color, and two lights equal four colors at one time. They shift in a random loop, so that the colors keep changing,” Marvell says. “I’m a sculptor and modernist – modernism has left behind a way to make sculpture more interactive.”


Nicholette Kominos manipulates non-conventional materials creating a visceral tension between lines and construction. She was influenced by the Arte Povera Movement, shifting between sculpture and drawing, layering information.


In the untitled piece above, Kominos uses pipe cleaners and ceramic shell.
“I have a painterly background but I felt sculpture was a way to intuitively evolve as an artist. Here, I tried a spontaneous process using pipe cleaners, and by chance, adding black sand gave me a way to manipulate the piece further. Exposing and expressing in different forms is a way for me to bring historical events into a piece, to reference people in real life, in different forms. I use common materials that reflect the awesome beauty of the world.”

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Melissa Manfull explores the conceptual and visual analogies between natural and human-made structures through her seductively detailed drawings of towers, arches and doorways. Complex and delicate, each world she creates seems to grow like a flower from the root of another more commonly glimpsed.

Gravitas is about falling down the rabbit hole and up it again – into a new realm created from the inside out. Go experience it.

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The Brand Library and Art Center is located in Glendale at 1601 W. Mountain Street.

  • Genie Davis; All Photos: Jack Burke