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(1) Michael Laurence, "Messages Are Received", mixed media collage, 20 x 16", 1994
(2) Michael Laurence, "Oracle", mixed media collage, 20 x 16", 1994
(3) Ed Lau, "Song for a Sacred Bird", mixed media, 18 x 18 x 3 1/4", 1994
(4) Ed Lau, "Child's Chair II", mixed media, 26 1/2 x 20 x 19 1/2", 1994


by Marge Bulmer

(John Thomas Gallery, Santa Monica) A life is a complicated thing, a compilation of bits and pieces, of acquaintances and intimates, of years lost and memories gained. When we rummage through old photos of unknowns, of letters, insignificant jottings, or peculiar objects saved, we wonder about the people who saved those trifles and found them precious. The assemblages and collages of Michael Laurence and Ed Lau speak of a sensitivity to the seemingly insignificant discards that innately hold memory of people, of events, of seasons. Although both artists present work that has a subtle beauty, the materials affectionately handled, the emotional content differs in that Laurence's are literary in character while Lau's are more shamanistic and organic.

Michael Laurence, author, art critic, and poet as well as artist, died February 27 of this year. The art exhibited was created in the last year of his life and was found among his belongings. It respresents the strongest work he did. I first met Laurence about six years ago while visiting an exhibition. In our many conversations since, I noticed that he was most drawn to artwork that had emotional depth. He was, at the same time, repelled by the over-sentimental and astute to anything that was cloying or self-conscious. Extremely sophisticated, he was sensitive to the intelligence as well as to the poetry of art.

Laurence's art reflects the person he was--literary, poetic, and authentic. The assemblages and collages here, classical in composition and formally symmetrical, are, at the same time, ambiguous and mysterious in content inscriptions at the bottom of a piece may he clearly stated, while the image is abstract. A bit of writing may appear to be scratched or scribbled, half-erased beneath a photo of a plaintive figure or a lone ship on some dark waters. Laurence juxtaposed objects, images, and writing so that we find meaning in fragile thoughts and tender half-messages, materials organized into art that seems to be a personal memorial.

Ed Lau's constructions and assemblages, on the other hand, have a kind of silence and a distinct sense of continuity that one may experienre while strolling in a heavily wooded area or on an empty beach. A bit of driftwood, a bleached bone, rusted metal strips, a bird's feather, a dried leaf, or a few stones find their way into his work. A gallery director as well as an artist, he saves announcements left after artists' shows at his gallery. He bundled each group together, blackened them with tar, and added something that reminded him of the artist--perhaps a bird's wing, a few twigs, or nothing but the bit of twine. There is an understated brevity, a quiet, reserved vulnerability communicated. The visual beauty invites the viewer to contemplate the passage of time and changing seasons.

Lau, who is also a landscape architect, has a deep understanding and respect for nature's processes. His art preserves the integrity of the moment and the essence of materials. Each piece is a part of his personal experience and each bit of material within a work contains a private memory.

Art is selective. It requires a certain distance and evolves from subjective filtering of details. The art in this exhibit is emotive and holds a truth, not the clinical truth of facts but a poetic truth. It is said that histories are made of the lies of victors and that poetry and art unravels those lies. The strength and truth of this exhibit is based on its fragility. An ephemeral past becomes a ghostly presence.