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April 2012


Nature Painting at the Municipal Art Gallery

by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

Spring has sprung even in the art galleries. The Municipal Art Gallery in Hollywood hosts three shows on the theme of nature and its potential destruction by those of us who live in it. Unnatural, organized by curator Scott D. Canty, features paintings by four women with long careers in Los Angeles: Constance Mallinson, Merion Estes, Lisa Adams and Fatemeh Burnes. Each of these artists is highly accomplished as a realist.


Mallinson's enormous canvas "Ruin" (2011), which is eighteen feet long and five feet high, is entirely covered with the brown leaves of trees. A nest of twigs is empty. The only egg one that is made of green plastic, broken open and also empty. If the symbolism seems heavy handed, the painting is not. In scale and overall pattern of line and color, it brings to mind Jackson Pollock's "Lavender Mist". Lisa Adams has painted tree stumps with a few tentative tendrils of yellow flowers and the suggestion of a distant city in shades of yellow, white and tan with the suggestive title "A Morass of Contradiction" (2010) Merion Estes uses paint, collage even photo transfer to invent scenes of paradise and hell. Are the glowing lily pads in "Sanctuary" (2011) brought here by extraterrestrials? Fatemeh Burnes gouges deep grooves into wood panels that she paints with trees, patterns of branches and birds who may be trapped or at least threatened as in Looking Down (2012).


In another gallery, there is a rather different manner of realist painting by members of the California Arts Club. Saving Paradise: The Symbiosis of Landscape Painting and Environmental Awareness was organized by Jean Stern, director of the Irvine Museum. These artists are intent on painting the most inspiring, uplifting, romantic visions of the California landscape: poppy fields, sunsets, rolling hills without freeways or houses. Though traditional in style, most were painted within the last decade. As Stern says, the show "aims to regain our affirmation of nature as the ultimate source of our being and a universal bond of humanity." Who can argue with that?


Finally, in the Project Room, "Hybrid Romance" refers to the stunning watercolors of flowers by Lawrence Yun. "Winter Garden" (2012) for instance gathers together a white carnation, magenta lilies and long green leaves and stalks in a bouquet that hovers in space, energized by splashes of blue and orange watercolor. These works are "unnatural" as well in the artist's arrangements of hybrids, flowers that people have attempted to enhance with their ideas of perfection.


It is hard to be indoors in this glorious weather but these shows offer an enticing invitation.


There is a panel discussion with the four artists of Unnatural on April 27 at 7pm and a conversation with Yun at 2pm.


All three shows continue through May 6. For more information go to

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp



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