Surfaces and Strata, Laurie MacMillan’s current exhibition at The Arts Fund, received an apt title: One walk through the gallery turns up more textures of paint than there are works on display. These surfaces range from sandy to smooth to slathered to sharp. Where strata are concerned, through the elaborately textured surfaces come layers of oranges, browns, yellows, and greens, side by side, overlapping, and blended into one another. There’s a lot going on here.
Then again, one expects no less from the winner of The Arts Fund’s Individual Artist Award, perhaps Santa Barbara’s most prestigious and longest-established juried art prize. MacMillan’s paintings, all of which reveal a sculptor’s feel for the tactile, fall into categories by the rigidity of their elements: “Cargo” is a rare, brown-heavy example of total devotion to squares and right angles, while the bright “Jumble #1” and “Jumble #2” wedge their hosts of color fields around each other and wind up looking more like crazy quilts or unconventionally assembled jigsaw puzzles than standard abstract images. In other works, such as “High Wire Act,” the individual patches of acrylic are encased in solid edges but assembled chaotically, coming together like a pile of shattered glass.
Several pieces defy even the loosest categorizations, and they’re some of the most fascinating. The already-sold status of the grainy-textured “Sailor’s Delight,” an image so uncannily resembling a seascape with a stunning orange sky that it butts up against the boundary of abstraction, will surely disappoint a large number of prospective buyers, especially those as stricken by the orange sky’s green highlights (some kind of electrical storm, perhaps?) as this reviewer. The large “Nowhere Near Here” stands even farther apart from the rest of MacMillan’s work, as its not-quite-formless features cohere into what resembles an outer-space telescope’s view of a scene no science fiction writer has yet envisioned. As with the most engaging abstract works, these push the viewer right to the cusp of seeing recognizable figures and spaces-but not quite over it.