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March 9 - April 14, 2001 at Loyola Marymount University, Laband Art Gallery

by Nancy Kay Turner

"Above and Below the Surface,"
o/c, 48 x 72", 1988.

"Blue and Scarlet,"
o/c, 48 x 36", 1991.

Margaret Lazzari is a classically trained figurative artist who uses the human form to explore issues of gender and sexuality as well as spiritual and emotional states. This mini-retrospective begins with her earlier explorations of the corporate world. C.E.O. Series #3 and Crouching Figure, both mixed -media works on paper, are painted in a loose, painterly style, with an emphasis on extreme cropping, high contrast and dripping paint which reaffirms the flatness of the picture plane. It is interesting to note that Lazzarri's images show the men reduced to their parts--only their hands or musculature show. In both pictures, the figure is back-lit, with shadows obscuring their faces. Their identities are concealed rather than revealed. Only the C.E.O.'s grasping hands are shown, clearly a metaphor for the greedy Eighties.

These dramatic, essentially monochromatic images are in direct contrast to Lazzari's light-drenched paintings of women. While the men appear one-dimensional, the women are literally and figuratively 'fleshed out.' This discernible and palpable difference is evident in the 1991 painting Blue and Scarlet. A young, vibrant women is shown lying on a bed, with a distinctly blissful 'come hither' expression on her face. Her voluptuous body, the warmth of the light that bathes her, the sensuousness of her surroundings, and her own body make this a memorable paean to female sexuality. The scarlet of the title remind us of The Scarlet Letter, and a heroine in another time and place who was severely punished for the exercise of her sexuality.

In Mother and Child the heroine (AKA:the artist) moves from the glories of sex to the rewards of motherhood and a new kind of intimacy. Lazzari's self-portrait with her own toddler is painted in a monumental and solid manner, echoing the Old Master paintings of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries. Whether painting a modern mother and child or an allegorical person, as in the upbeat Personification of Time, Lazzari's female protagonists are full-figured fertility figures bathed in a golden, transformational light, and touched by grace. In these works, weight is used as a metaphor. These women are substantial. They're not lightweights--easily moved around. They are heavyweights--people to be reckoned with.

In the mid- to late-nineties, Lazzari started a new series of water paintings. In Above and Below the Surface Lazzari portrays a young girl floating in water. She seems serenely supported by the silky, blue-green water. On the other side of the diptych, the young girl floats anxiously in an ominously red streaked body of water. On her face is a look of concern. The red and black streaks suggest both tar spills and blood. The surface of the water, which is gorgeously painted, is both seductive and dangerous. Lazzari, in the catalogue that accompanies this show, explains "The medium of water is a way to identify people and make them present, but in the water they are visually distorted, seemingly dissolved and weightless as if they are between life and death. In some of these paintings, they are my vision of heaven.".

This is particularly true of the triptych entitled States of Matter: Grace. To the left is an androgynous figure, glowing white like an angel. This ambiguous figure looks to the right guiding the viewer to the central panel, where a child in an inner tube swims towards the outstretched hands of her mother. In the panel to the right, a happy, brightly lit man, presumably the father and husband, smiles contentedly. The water is dark as night, as mysterious as life itself.

Lazzari couples a keen intelligence with dazzling sensuality to create a body of work which is personal, idiosyncratic, of its time and, paradoxically, timeless.

"Self-Portrait as 'Mother and
Child',"o/c, 48 x 36", 1996.

"Love in the Afternoon," mixed
media on paper, 42 x 30", 1995.