Closing May 25th at Night Gallery, U.K.-based artist Laura Lancaster’s Running Toward Nothing is absolutely heading toward a highly fluid “something.” Perhaps it is the passage into a void we cannot control or fathom, perhaps it is the way through or into a dream, or just possibly, it is the outcome of memory and a passage through this life.
In her first LA solo exhibition, the artist’s large-scale work seethes with meaning and possibility, using gracefully flowing lines that take us on the road to lush abstraction but stop just short, encouraging viewers to delve deeply into their own memories, asking us to conjure a relationship to her work.
Lancaster’s paintings shape journeys that are both obscure and meaningful; based on found photographs, her images seem to wash away the details of these photographs, intuitively reshaping their subjects into haunting, minimalist visual poetry with meaning that seems hard-wired into the viewer’s soul.
With this series, Lancaster uses water-based paint, creating a lighter sensation and perhaps even more dream-like images than in previous series. There are reflections in pools and mirrors; there is light that floats like a benediction over the surface of the image; there is a sense of a watery existence, as if the very painting she has created might dissolve at any moment.
Certainly in Phantom, in which a coal black figure arises from the shimmering pink and blue depths of a pool, the central figure appears to be dripping, not only from water but of water; in the background, the pool’s edge is also a charry black, above it, the peachy pink of the sunset sky is almost on fire. Through it all, light shivers and slips, as if it were dancing off water, or itself submerged in it.
With Untitled, two pale and nymph like shapes with orange-brown hair — one could be the reflection of the other — float or dance through a dark blue and black sea. We can sense the motion, the turbulence in this body of water. Surely, this must be the sea rather than a pool — and beyond it are leafy, bright green trees, obscured but recognizable, the color exuding and even reflecting light. Beyond the trees is the blackness of a void. We are awash in, perhaps kept within, a dream-like landscape. Beyond it, should we seek escape, we cannot.
Another Untitled work offers the viewer a look at a shadowy, clearly male figure, casting his pool of darkness over a vivid orange and gold scene. A woman, legs crossed voluptuously, is poised on the edge of — something — a pool perhaps, or from the white squares next to her, perhaps against a bed. She is sensual and seductive even in her lack of definition. She exudes the fiery light of Lancaster’s background, perhaps the last light of sunset spilling through a window; her face is hidden, but we sense an alluring smile. Who or what is she drawing near? A Santa cap is perched jauntily on her head. Is this a romantic holiday surprise? Is it something darker? Again, we are at the mercy or perhaps the magical input of our own impulses, our own imagination, our own pasts.
In Reappear, a woman, seen from behind, looks into her own reflection in the mirror. The brown color palette here is almost sepia-toned, a memory from the past. It may in fact be the past that is reappearing in that mirror. The reflection is slightly wavering, one senses rather than sees light exuded from the mirror and onto the shoulders of the woman looking into it. There is something both intimate and universal in that view. Who has not looked into a mirror, witnessed his or her own beauty, dissolving with age and time, or remembering another occasion, prepared for in the past, anticipated for good or ill. The darker brown shadow that crosses the woman’s reflection seems to invoke that past, to slip from it or into it.
A similar image is depicted in Spectre, in which a woman views her reflection in a mirror above a bathroom sink. The sink itself seems to be dripping, white and ghostly, melting like wax. Her face is almost entirely obscured with abstraction, the mirror here is glancing back at us like a blind eye. The pink and white of the woman’s attire and the sink and counter itself bloom like pale flowers in a dim moonlight. Her arm is raised as if to apply lipstick, but we cannot see the result, she, too is dissolving.
In Ghost, there is a similar feeling of the ephemeral, an edge of the supernatural. The images here are so resolutely pale they could be dissolved into cloud; here a seated figure, watches another, swimming. Or their disembodied spirits do. The whiteness around them threatens to overwhelm them and extrude their physicality; and yet it does not.
Less fathomable, Nowhere is almost total abstraction, a vibrating and shifting wave of color that appears to be water; a dark figure floats in it but is barely discernable. It is as if the viewer could blink and that figure itself would disappear, a figment of a dream that has transcended itself and was briefly positioned in reality.
There is a richly layered quality to each of these works, and a timelessness in the subjects. Are we seeing past or future? Is year important? Does place matter? Surely, we can recall a glistening pool and the feeling of dipping ourselves into it, dissolving in that water. Or we can imagine a future trip in which we plunge into an impossible wave and are temporarily positioned there, even as light leaches from a warm sky at sunset. While the actual subjects are specific and intimate — or were at one time — Lancaster captures in them a universal attraction, a collective imagining as it were.
In terms of technique, Lancaster has added another dimension to this series of work. Rather than painting directly from a photographic image, as she has in past series, here she first creates a pastel drawing of it before painting her vision.
And vision is a good way to describe this work. It is intuitive and soft, entirely and evocatively feminine. It is also a prism of motion and color from a distance; up close it dances into perspective, offering a meditative and fascinating look at the magic of memory, the greatness in a single moment, the snap of a camera, the ritual of preservation, or the attempt to preserve, against all odds and possibility. All of this can mutate like light on water in the blink of an eye, or through the passage of time.
This is an elegant, sweeping, elegiac body of work which takes the viewer floating on a sea of dreams.