[1] [2]


(1) "Paradoxos" (13), o/c, 40 x 30", 1996.
(2) "Paradoxos" (11), o/c, 40 x 30", 1996.
(3) "Stapelta, Bulbous", oil on plywood, 36 x 36", 1995
(4) "Meta" (2), oil/collage on canvas, 12 x 36", 1995.

by Marge Bulmer

(Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica) Olga Seem's intense, luminous paintings serve both as physical representations of intellectual investigation and as guides to emotional contemplation. Her blowups of seeds, pods, roots, dried plants, fossils, and succulents become shapes, color, and texture. Coiling, looping lines add a delicate layer of kinesthetic energy, like developing floating cells.

The effects are various. Some paintings have a lyrical open airiness, while others gather into dense particles of color. The larger works on canvas or panel are given a heavier outline, enclosing the form, holding it stable, giving it a sense of sculptural solidity and weight. In her works on paper images seem to evaporate, mysteriously blending into a darkened, foggy background. What Seem conveys is a theatre of interiority, an intimacy of detail that opens with the viewer's gaze. Her source is nature.

This nature is not overwhelming, tragic, or romantic. It is just there, and always in flux. Interested more in what the ground produces, Seem carefully observes the intricate elements within a plant, sometimes dissecting fragments to see the inner workings. So it is not the broad vista of a landscape, nor plants in full bloom that attracts her eye. It is the dried portions, the seeds, the parts that are in the process of decay that fascinate because it is in that process that the artist reveals elements of growth.

The method of preparation is traditional. After applying gesso and acrylic, Seem draws the image and covers it with medium. As layers of hues are added they are rubbed with a cloth so that some of the paint adheres and some fades. Intuitively working the image and surfaces over time what emerges, through the rich depth, is frequently very different from the original intent or source, even though echoes remain. Paper may be laminated onto a surface, bits of metal may be added to alter pictorial structure, but nature is primary. Her extreme care in the crafting of each work contributes to the singularity of the images.

If a suggestion of eroticism is perceptable, Seem accepts responsibility. In acknowledging the sexual overtones she muses, "They are not there by design, but perhaps when they appear, I unconsciously play them up." The duality and opposition of shapes achieves a special clarity.
The work here is horizonless, with background functioning as a wall on which forms appear. In Maypop the airy image floats against a skyless space. Its illusionistic texture invites you to stroke the furry surface. Seem paints a dark beauty in a tonality that is more psychic than phenomenal. She incorporates compartmentalized abstractions which adds to the mystery and ambiguity. Through the darkness a light seems to glow from within. The promise is in the knowledge that nothing remains the same, that everything continues to transform.