MERION ESTES,
PHYLLIS GREEN

by Suvan Geer

(Los Angeles Seoul Contemporary Arts [LASCA], Mid-City) The color saturated paintings of Merion Estes get bolder and more gratifying every year. Rich in painterly exuberance they allude to things like natural abundance, art history with a wonderfully buoyant spirituality that reads like an exhilarated mystic's dream time.

It is the fevered level of painterly dynamism that saturates Estes' images with a mystical intensity. Vaguely suggestive of abstracted landscapes, floral still lifes or aboriginal journey drawings, the images seem to spin with a purpose. Bright oil and acrylic colors merge and separate then begin to whirl, gathering momentum on the surface of the painting until they begin to glow with what feels like inner knowledge about what makes all things move and live.

Bed of Roses contains two lush parallel rivers of pattern and radiance. On one side is a bubbling torrent of Estes' spinning cellular disks, glowing vibrantly red and jostling for space. On the other side, a combed, metallic current washes over a more subdued multitude of similar shapes. Suggestive of a scientific Gustav Klimt there is an abstracted, bodily sensuality in the flushing, spinning circles pressing forward like engorged blood cells or breasts. Yet the radiant, inner illumination that fills these disks with a seeming life force also recalls Ross Bleckner's recent enigmatic paintings of glowing flowers [seen at Gagosian Gallery during October--Ed.].

Equally sensuous but more playful, Phyllis Green's flocked and feathered, pillow-enshrined sculptures define eroticism, in its power to stimulate and beguile, as a form of objectified, person-less seduction. But her newer pieces are more viscera-like and sharper in tone. They explore the dark corners of seeing the body as an erotic instrument of pleasure. Like silent musical pipes her pieces sit on their overstuffed thrones awaiting the touch of lips to breathe life into their bag-like lungs. Their display marks them as desirable, finely wrought collectibles. What gives them their edge is the way their gleaming surfaces, truncated orifices and organic coloration recall internal organs crudely ripped from a body. The mixture of allure and repugnance this association elicits adds fascinating layers of meaning to their seductive aura of enticement.

The connection between violence and eroticism has been explored extensively both in art and literature. Green's pieces, however, aren't overtly about violence. Instead they project the detached scientific mind-set of the contemporary age which sees the body as an entrancing assortment of parts readily available for use. Such an attitude which leads to disturbing thoughts about the ethical and social implications of organ transplants, genetic engineering and pre-natal tissue harvesting. It's a credit to the wit of Green's art that while these implications run rampant the individual pieces continue to be beguiling, even playful. Humor and beauty seduce the mind.

In two other solo shows in this large exhibition space are paintings by Sharon Ryan and Joseph Piasentin. Ryan's black ink on birch panel drawings are reminiscent of Lari Pittman's early vegetable paintings in their subtle, delightful sexuality that feels self aware yet innocent. Piasentin's large acrylic and oil tar on wooden slat paintings try to dislodge their materiality with abstract forms that ride on or slip between the painting's very solid physical grounds.

 
Merion Estes, "Jungle Fever", oil/acrylic on fabric on panel, 60 x 48", 1996.

 


Phyllis Green, "Reptilia Rosa," mixed media, 8.5 x 11.5 x 11.5", 1996.

 


Sharon Ryan, "11.14," ink on birch,
24 x 45", 1995.

 


Joseph Piasentin, "Colleague/Irony/Host," acrylic/oil tar on wood, 72 x 72", 1996.