Viewers beware: Artist Kara Maria’s work is not for the faint of heart. In her show Paradise Lost, currently on exhibit at the Nathan Larramendy gallery, popular culture allusions merge with war iconography in an explosion of explicit display. For this particular show, Maria’s imagery reads like a catalog of a teenage boy’s obsessions: guns, nude women (oftentimes in compromising positions), comic books, cars, and fighter jets. Although mundane enough separately, these symbols of American culture take on a whole new level of power when combined. Paradise Lost requires a warning, not just for its sometimes graphic content, but because it engages the viewer on such a visceral and immediate level that it demands an equally charged emotional response.
Of course, it is precisely Maria’s goal to make the viewer squirm with discomfort. Two of her paintings, “Paradise Lost” (pictured, top image) and “The Magic Garden,” bring the viewer face to face with the searing and unforgettable images of prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Juxtaposed against bucolic, Van Gogh-esque landscapes, the nude figures are a study in the conflation of military power and sexual dominance. Maria explores this power dynamic further in “Bomber,” a work on paper in which a pornographic image of a woman floats in the direct path of a fighter jet. Here, the artist blurs the line between human exploitation and military prowess, painting with a delicacy that belies the violent overtones of the subject matter.