VENUS ON WILSHIRE: The Edward Cella Art + Architecture Gallery (edwardcella.com) on Wilshire Boulevard is right across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and it makes an ideal setting for Mary Heebner’s The Venus Paintings, which will remain on view there until December 28. These large, otherworldly fragments of female figures benefit greatly from the breathing space afforded by Cella’s large rooms. They are also well served by the space’s abundant natural light, as their surfaces are highly worked in multiple ways. As in her other recent projects referencing archaeology and sculpture, Heebner begins with photography and with poetry. For the Venus suite, Heebner took photos of various ancient sculptures of the feminine form and printed them on fine paper, all the while meditating on an appropriate poetic text — in this case the fragments of Sappho. Heebner then drew and painted on top of that base figure to create these nuanced, layered paintings of torsos that match Renaissance draftsmanship with the sophisticated chromatics of high modernism. In some instances, the Sappho fragments were inscribed on the images, while in others they only appear as the works’ titles. Finally, Heebner cast a magic texture and glow to her pieces by applying thin, nearly transparent sheets of handmade paper to parts of their surfaces.
Expressing an acute awareness of the sculptural tradition through the deft handling of her own chosen media, Heebner brings out the real women still living within these ancient Venus figures. As UCSB professor Bruce Robertson writes in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, this “layer of transparent pink paper … gathers and folds like skin.” Cloaked in handmade paper skin and brought to life by the artist’s painterly touch, Venus emerges once more into the present.
It’s a virtuoso performance, and one which Heebner’s teacher and mentor William Dole would very much have appreciated. A selection of Dole’s collages are also on view in the Cella gallery alongside the Venus paintings, and they are exquisite and enlightening, offering a glimpse of the creative ferment in the UCSB Art Department of the 1970s.
NULL ON WEST PICO: Another great Santa Barbara artist, Kimberly Hahn, has also had a strong solo show in Los Angeles this fall — The Object Is Null at Design Matters (designmattersla.com) on West Pico. This installation showed Hahn operating at the peak of her powers both as a conceptualist and as a creator of absorbing visual experiences. Juxtaposing large black photo backdrops with geometric shapes cut out of them to mobile wall hangings made out of hinges and Plexiglas, Hahn conjured a hallucinatory darkroom of the mind and one in which the final referent of the image is perpetually deferred. Each of the Plexiglas pieces swings on a hinge that allows the panel’s shadow against the wall to be altered. Behind each panel is a subtle, barely there wall painting that imitates the effect of the glass on the light cast through it. The doubling of these cast images, as in several of the other pieces in the show, sets in motion a riddling circle of impressions in the viewer’s eye. One looks, and then looks again, in a process that’s at once perplexing and pleasurable. No one angle, either physical or thematic, predominates in these literally open-ended objects. They work any way you look at them. For more on Hahn, visit kimberlyhahn.com.