There’s Magic Made in the Mojave

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The Museum of Art and History (MOAH) is a crown jewel in the Antelope Valley, a beautiful, airy modern space that makes the perfect two-story setting for the brilliant, magical exhibition Made in the Mojave.

Nine artists take on the landscape of the desert and create vibrant images from it, each original, startling, and fresh. It’s rare, frankly, to see so much beautiful art on a single subject that sings with this much meaning.

Artists include Samantha Fields, Kim Stringfellow, Carol Es, Catherine Ruane, Aline Mare, Ron Pinkerton, Nicolas Shake, Randi Hokett, and a site specific installation by Antelope Valley artist Marthe Aponte.

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Samantha Field’s “Ten Years” includes stunning, large scale landscapes that depict dramatic, powerful desert scenes bordering on the apocalyptic. Filling a large first floor gallery space, these paintings offer sweeping vistas, roiling clouds, a deer seemingly both frozen and in mid-motion.

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Spilling from the museum’s first floor windows, Randi Hokett’s jeweled mixed media “Crystalworks” look like desert geodes cracked open to reveal riveting beauty inside.

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Catherine Ruane’s stunning black and white graphite and charcoal works feature intimate, textural visions of desert plants, starry skies, Joshua trees and yucca. “Dance Me to the Edge” pulls viewers into a world so perfectly defined one can almost feel the sharp spines, smell desert sage after a rain, caress the soft flowers.

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Meticulously rendered, twelve small round drawings surround one larger central piece of a Joshua tree in bloom.

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Marthe Aponte creates an installation in a darkened side room that glows with golden light. With “Memories of a Joshua Tree” she’s shaped a sensuously spiked tree and the goddess-like figures of mythological Fates.

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This is work that is redolent with life and light, a portal, a beacon of life in the darkness.

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Aline Mare’s “The Angle of Repose” is a lush, passionate exhibition that presents an up close look at vividly colored desert minutae, a seed pod, a poppy, tree roots. Fusing multiple images photographed, scanned, painted, and altered, these are compositions that defy simple interpretation or a single gaze.

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The depths of the universe seem to emanate from a seedpod – and really, is this an illusion, or a wondrous truth?

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Intense, saturated color and surreal structures made from desert discards mark the fascinating work of Nicolas Shake whose “Wasteland” combines sculptural arrangements with photographic compositions that could be the homes of interplanetary travelers.

 

Ron Pinkerton’s “The Last Stand” offers night skies and mysterious streaking stars, abandoned cars and empty pools, ghostly and transcendent.

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Kim Stringfellow’s “The Mojave Project” documents the desert in its dangerous, transformative, and compelling glory. She takes on waste and abandonment, the complex landscape itself,  with photography, artifacts, and what will be a large scale video installation scheduled to travel the country over a two year period, bringing the desert – so close to home here in Southern California – to more distant regions.

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Carol Es gives us whimsical mystical oil paintings and collaged works inspired by Joshua Tree National park locations, and an installation of a campsite inside which the artist’s short film “Up to Now” is screened.

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The desert often hides its vibrant life beneath the ground until a rain, or the quiet of nightfall brings out the creatures, the flowers, the wind to play. For a look at the secret heart of the desert and its sweeping magnificence, step inside MOAH and look around. There is nothing empty about this desert exhibition.

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The show runs through July 30th and is well worth the drive from LA. MOAH is located at 665 Lancaster Blvd. in Lancaster.

  • Genie Davis; Photos – Genie Davis and courtesy of artists

 

 

 

 

 

Self Portrait as Self: Jane Szabo at MOAH

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Opening May 7th at MOAH, the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, contemporary artist Jane Szabo’s Self Portrait as Self Investigation is one of four solo exhibitions that comprise the museum’s Artist as Subject.

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Szabo’s fine art photography blends sculpture, installation art, and photography with fashion itself through her series of portraits, which go far beyond what is typically thought of as self-portraiture. She does not appear in her photographs physically, although her presence is nonetheless very much felt. Instead, Szabo’s self-portraiture is all about the dress. The artist photographs dresses. But these are no ordinary dresses, rather they are constructs, artworks designed as dresses that in a beautiful, evocative way define the person they are meant to clothe, the artist – and the viewer.

The garments themselves are stunningly beautiful, crafted by Szabo out of everyday objects such as road maps, coffee filters, cellophane, even sample filters for lighting gels. She explains “They suggest a persona and become a stand-in for myself, who I am, am not, and who I wish to be.”

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Each of her works seem alive with light and form. The pieces are playful, using the human form – or the dresses that could be hung upon it – as sculpture. Her photography is vivid and representational, yet her somewhat surreal fashions create an almost otherworldly look. Her dresses could be the carapaces of creatures from a different planet – or the external “skin” we shed, the covering that hides, or, like Egyptian sarcophogi, represents, the spirit within.

Szabo’s subjects are each a still life, a study in a garment that clothes the spirit rather than the body. And yet, though clearly unable to “move” on their own, her photography is hardly still. Rather, it creates a breathtaking illusion, as if the dresses could suddenly start dancing, and take on a ghostly life of their own.

Recently, the artist has begun, in her own words, to “push the envelope” on her dress photographs. “I’m engaging in different ways than I have in the past. I don’t want to get too formulaic with the dress ingredient.”

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Take as an example the dress made from sample filters for different lighting gels available for use in the film industry. From these, Szabo created a dress that is part rainbow, part stained glass, a multicolored, transparent “skin” that captures light and reflects it. The dress as a window to the soul, perhaps.

“I love the out of focus, cast light projection behind the dress. It was projected on the wall behind the dress and photographed using a single exposure,” the artist relates.

As one of four artists interpreting self-portraiture at MOAH, Szabo has long been intent on exposing the inner through the outer. If a raiment is the wrapping paper, what is inside? And who says you can’t literally wear your heart – and soul – on your sleeve? Szabo definitely does, expressing self-identity, female identity, and society’s role in creating both personal and gender image.

Her photographic narrative is highly personal, expressing the dichotomy between self-imposed structure, societal structures, and the nearly indefinable yet unquenchable spirit of true self. One could not find a more experiential form of self-portrait for both viewer and subject.

Along with the dresses themselves, Szabo pairs related objects with the dresses, creating a complete story with compelling connections between society, the individual, and self.

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She pushes the boundaries of self-reflection beyond a simple gaze at her reflected image into the core of her being, drawing her portraits from what she describes as her own mythology, yet letting the images take on a life and story of their own, encouraging viewers to “try on” one of the personas she depicts.

Her photographic compositions have the formal construction and delicate appearance of paintings, while maintaining the illusion that they’re ready to swirl into motion. Both aspects of Szabo’s work reflect her background as a painter and installation artist, as well as a career that included creating custom props and scenery.

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The Los Angeles based artist has had work included in exhibitions at the Oceanside Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Colorado Center for Photographic Arts, PhotoSpiva, San Diego Art Institute, The Los Angeles Center for Photography, Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. Her series Sense of Self was featured in a solo show at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art in 2014, and earlier this year, as a solo exhibition, Investigating Self at the Yuma Fine Art Center in Arizona.

Along with Szabo’s work, MOAH’s “Artist as Subject” features solo exhibitions by Nataša Prosenc Stearns, Kent Anderson Butler, Eric Minh Swenson, Rebecca Campbell and a retrospective on local artist Andrew Frieder.

Artist as Subject
Lancaster Museum of Art and History – MOAH
665 W Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster Ca 93534
Public opening reception May 7, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; the exhibition runs through July 24, regular museum hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., until 8 p.m. on Thursday. The museum is closed on Mondays.

  • Genie Davis; Photos by Jack Burke, and provided by artist