Return to Articles


January 17 - March 8, 2003 at Palos Verdes Art Center, South Bay

by Elenore Welles

Countless generations of artists have been intrigued by the mysteries of the universe. Seeking clues to the transcendent aspects of the human spirit, they sensed the parallels between the behavior of celestial objects and patterns in their lives. The concept of man as a microcosm of a larger universe became the essence of their symbolic language.

Quantum leaps in modern astronomy have penetrated the universe, uncovering information unknown to previous generations. Scientists have revealed, for instance, that we are made up of the same elements as the stars. Concepts and images made available through these technological breakthroughs have sparked the imagination of the five artists in Exploring the Cosmos.

A belief in the interconnectedness of our planet with the larger cosmos has long been a focus in the works of Lita Albuquerque. A product of the Light and Space movement and philosophies derived from her Islamic culture, Albuquerque’s land formations, and her planetary and star constellations often deal with astronomical phenomena.

Lita Albuquerque, "Star Keeper,"
silk screen on glass, 20 x 60".

Sarah Perry, “Beast of Burden,”
2002, 9’ x 4 1/2’ x 4’.
But it is the poetry of the unseen and the unknown that has long inspired her. In Star Keeper, she brings the heavens to earth, turning bees into metaphorical stars. A 20” x 60” silk screen on glass triptych, the center depicts an astronaut on a moonscape. He is flanked on either side by bee/star keepers.

Sara Perry also finds excitement in the unknowable qualities of the universe. Viewing explorations of space and time as akin to religious experience, she contemplates not only the essence of who we are, but our future on a cosmic level. Perry uses bones to communicate a variety of ideas, her medium based on the fact that our bodies are made from the same particles as stars. From rocket ships to skyscapes, her bone sculptures display the virtuosity of intricate craftsmanship.

Functioning as poetic alchemist in Waiting by the Moon, she explores the transformative powers inherent to both science and religion. Birds wrapped in twine cast shadows on an oval lunar-scape. Like insect pupae, they await internal change--earthly analogues for planetary transformations. In Galaxy, bone dust applied to an oval aluminum panel evokes a swirling cluster of stars. Her selection of shapes exemplifies Jean Arp’s structural principle that “fluid ovals” are emblems for metamorphosis.

William Hood, "Horse
Head," astrophotography

Robert Ortlieb, “Etheric
Visions, Drawing #48".
The most arrestingly sensual works here are William Hood’s astrophotos. The technology used to create photos of the cosmos is much more difficult than conventional photography. But the result is visions of incredible beauty. Using specially treated film that is subjected to extended exposure time, he captures events that happened 40,000 years ago. Comets that streak across starry skies, colorful nebula, galaxies and star trails manifest the magnitude and wonder of our universe.

Deviating from the external, Robert Ortleib’s Etheric Visions stem from internal meditations. His visions erupt in a cacophony of material expressions. These purely imagined conceptions evolve as a spectrum of abstract and natural forms: skeletal structures, bursting viscera, crystals and cosmological elements spinning in a whirl of frenetic energy. Ortlieb’s inner world appears as a phenomena of unrest, perhaps a psychic parallel to the dynamic aspects of the cosmos.

Russell Crotty, "Milky Way, Northern Hemisphere," 2000,
ink on paper mounted on lucite 36-inch diameter sphere (not in this exhibition--Ed.).

Russell Crotty’s ambitious diagrammatic ink and pencil drawings reflect the long hours he spends studying the skies. His body of work includes books, drawings on paper and globes. Mysterious Travelers, a 3 ft. x 10 ft. drawing, depicts a comet streaking over a mountainous terrain. Crotty has long held a fascination with the science of the universe. But trained as an artist, he eschews the precision of technology in favor of quiet observation and recording. The results are more poetic than literal.

Observing the universe, these artists touch on the theosophical as well as the aesthetic, even implying a connection between the two. Their works reflect the long-time impulse to graphically imply a mystical correspondence between the inner and the outer world.