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September 8 - October 6, 2007 at Lawrence Asher Gallery, West Hollywod

by Suvan Geer

Susannah Bettag, “Are You
Thinking Of Me?”, 2007, oil and
acrylic on panel, 36 x 28".

Susannah Bettag, “But Do You Even
Notice Anymore?”, 2007, oil and
acrylic on panel, 24 x 24".

Susannah Bettag, “Pretty Ugly”,
2007, acrylic and gold
leaf on panel, 24 x 24".

What is the push-pull of sexual attraction and how do you represent that very complex arena of overwhelming want with its restless underpinnings of need, caution and physical anxiety? The paintings of Susannah Bettag dive neatly into that bubbling hot tub of fantasy and troubling reality.
Her images are sweet, attractive in an almost over the top way. They come in delectable, intense colors and feature lots of cute, cartoony balloon shapes. At least one is decorated with tiny cherry frosted pastries and a large-eyed fawn. But beneath it all is something disconcerting that gets more disturbing as your eye deciphers the compound imagery she’s constructed.

“Pretty Ugly” is a two section ground of flatly painted, intense purple and deep orange bisected by a narrow band of variegated gold leaf. It looks like these fields host a virtual party of cascading pale grey confetti ribbons, pale dotted puffs, tiny pink balloons and little blue flowers spotted with bright butterfly wings. But all the fun is internally contradicted by the two ornately scripted words--“Pretty Ugly”--that are emblazoned in the dark orange ground. This text visually asserts itself less quickly than all the bubbles and ribbons, but that visual lag draws our attention to the presence of a blue line drawing. It’s a spare outline drawing of a large, erotic female nude. Closer scrutiny reveals that her naked body is not only being veiled but also lightly secured by the party flotsam swirling around her. At that moment the balloons and butterfly wings that decorate her seem suddenly less than benign. The  shower transforms into an intense bubbling mire filled with torn-off wings, micro-organisms and encapsulated spores. Turns out it’s more nightmare than fantasy.

Bettag doesn’t incorporate titles into all her images. Some like the seductively Hallmark “Are You Thinking of Me?” are found only in the exhibition list. Left unsaid yet wedded to the hidden lusty porn, abetted by her viral sprays of puffy antigens and flowery clusters of bacteria, the titular question is perhaps even more provocative. Bettag’s paintings visualize nagging private doubts and fears.
Also showing at Lawrence Asher are the enigmatic, haunting paintings of Lisa Adams. Looking at her work is often like listening to someone else’s dream--weirdly wonderful, oddly incoherent yet begging for interpretation that seems out of reach.
For all her imagery’s pictorial clarity Adams’ narratives remain suggestive puzzles. This time out the artist’s brightly colored oil on panel paintings present tableaux of active serpentine vines and fragments of trees, each pumped with a kind of tenacious exuberance for life. We are meant to see these trees and vines as animating life forces as well as instructive representations of the wisdom of nature. The branches coil and span, they flower and weep, arch and entangle. More symbolic than natural, each image is an isolated  thought that is focused and framed by an intangible, misty ground. It’s a territory of psychology, dreams and spiritual rumination.

In “Is That A Bower?” a dark blue bird with bright yellow wings and head sits peacefully on a frail new twig in the center of a brutally denuded tree that is vigorously re-sprouting and spurting green sap droplets. What remains of the tree is little more than a trellis, all right angles and emptiness silhouetted by a bright blue sky. Aided by the image, the title poses haunting questions about continuity and loss, the need for privacy and places of safety. Significantly, the bird is untroubled. Only the viewer may be devastated by the loss and desperate for resolution.

“Is It Real?” depicts a single sensuous vine wafting upward from a blue Aladdin’s lamp. It rises smoke-like against a grey ground. Around the ascending vine are curls of yellow/blue calligraphic marks and dots of bright pink buds that look like confetti and party ribbon. The thought occurs that happiness is like this, joyous, exuberant and as ephemeral as smoke.
The ground of “The Climate Border” is a field of intense, sky blue that is being steadily overwritten from below by a thick, dirty white cloud. Waving like hairy whips against this high altitude juncture of earth and sky are two long green vines. Incongruously, each vine is rooted at both ends into two widely separated dark stumps of broken-off wood. Small coiling tendrils stretch along the length of the vines, fluttering in an invisible wind. The ragged stumps may be insistently sprouting despite the murk below, or perhaps are reaching out to connect with each other to relieve their isolation at the roof of the world. The ambiguous twin vines may be seen in terms of fertile continuity or tenacious survival in a hostile environment.

Adams has written that she tries in her work “to embody my own sense of what it is to be alive, to encapsulate the difficulties of being human.” And in her hands painting becomes a visually provocative landscape where idiosyncratic symbolism continually jogs the viewer’s own capacity to apply interpretation and meaning. Adams’ work serves to remind us how fluid representation really is. These images slip the tenacity of nature out of context and turn it into a koan.

Lisa Adams, “The Climate Border,”
2007, oil on panel, 47 x 42”.

Lisa Adams, Is It Real?,”
2007, oil on panel.

Lisa Adams,
“Is That a Bower?"
2007, oil on panel.

Lisa Adams, “
Sit Still," 2006,
17" x 18”, oil on panel.