Luminous Depths at Roswell Space – Art and Cake

May 7, 2024 - Art

It will be difficult to name a class of landscape in which the sky is not the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment.
~John Constable

These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession.
~Claude Monet

Written By Betty Brown
For centuries, artists have been fascinated by the clouds above the earth and the waters on its surface. Among the most renowned of these are British Romantic painter John Constable (1776-1837) and French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926). While Constable looked up at the clouds and created dozens of lush paintings of sunny and stormy skies, Monet looked at his beloved water lily pond and depicted the way overhanging trees framed flickering reflections of sun and sky.

Today, Los Angeles artist Ada Pullini Brown and jonna lee continue this visionary tradition. Pullini Brown creates “portraits” of clouds, frequently puffy, snow white cumulous clouds but also cirrus and stratus. Her almost scientific observations are offset by abstract lines and shapes, juxtaposing hard-edged geometry with the fluid white organic shapes. Many of the lines are limned in gold leaf (with its inevitable allusions to medieval icons), but others are reddish orange. Since orange is the complement of blue on the color wheel, the orange lines appear to “pop” out of the azure skies. Pullini Brown’s contrast of realism and abstraction situates her cloud images in the multivalent approaches of Post Modernism, comfortably accommodating historic representationalism and modernist reduction.

Jonna lee renders complex solar reflections on mirror-like water. She does so with involved mixtures of media, building her compositions on foundational photographs, printing them, then working and reworking them with paint. Because she often uses iridescent pigment, her works actually shimmer as they depict shimmering surfaces. When I look at Monet’s water lily pond paintings, his thick, sensual brush strokes remind me of sugary frosting and invite an almost hungry response. Lee’s woks, on the other hand, invite me into a more bodily response. I want to submerge my hands deep into their inviting surfaces.

The pairing of paintings by Pullini Brown and lee is genius. Both oeuvres are primarily blue in tone and both are lushly painted. But Pullini Brown is firmly rooted in representationalism (take out those narrow lines and these could easily be mistaken for Constables). And lee’s mixed media combinations recall early works by American artists Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) and Pat Steir (born 1958). Both Rauschenberg and Steir are characterized as “painters and graphic artists.” With her multi-sourced depictions and their final form as archival prints (formerly known as Giclees), such a description would work for lee as well.

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