While artwork is often autobiographical, the artists in this exhibition go beyond self-narration to plunge into the depths of their lives. They create work that mirrors their deeper experiences and insights while provoking their viewers to personal reflection as well as admiration for the art pieces.
The largest works in the show by Perin Mahler are self-described as “a series of large, multi-figure paintings illustrating various aspects of my life both personal and professional.” He adds, “I use the format of history painting, normally associated with the heroic and eternal, to depict quotidian subjects.”
Employing the same standards that he imparts to his students at Cal State Long Beach – to engage the fundamentals of design, color and perspectives, along with freedom and spontaneity – he creates narrative paintings that explore many issues encountered in our complicated world today.
Mahler’s large oil “Possessed” (2021) illustrates a young man seated among tropical foliage – perhaps among cannabis plants – peering into a gift box, while several other empty gift boxes are scattered randomly around him. Is the man obsessed with possessions, with drugs or perhaps with other carnal desires? While the painting demonstrates Mahler’s expertise in visual communication, along with his use of expressive brushstrokes, the subject matter is provocative and open to interpretation by the viewer.
His painting “Dissociated” (2021), similar in its expressive style and chaotic ambiance, features the subject’s face as being completely hidden by large books flying around him. To intensify the chaos, the artist depicts a house all in flames behind the subject, along with a few dozen upside-down hooded and masked green faces at the bottom of the canvas. The total effect is of dismay and alarm at living in a world with an unknown future – during the pandemic.
Mahler’s paintings “Gifted” (2021) and “Satisfied” (2022) feature wrapped gifts surrounded by disorder. The subject in the former work is hanging from the ceiling, while the androgynous person in the latter painting is besieged by many gifts flying in the air, descending on him. These paintings, while meticulously and figuratively wrought, are darkly narrative, evoking both the surrealistic and more recent lowbrow styles.
Gretchen Batcheller, now living in Los Angeles, grew up in the 1970s and 80s in Yokohama, Japan, as the daughter of a Navy fighter pilot, and as the granddaughter and great-niece of Navy admirals. Rather than embracing this presumably privileged culture, she questions its influence “on entire societies, economies and the natural environments that sustain them,” adding, “This ongoing body of work serves as a fractured, visual correlate for a remembered reality that oscillates between gradients of cultural discovery, family honor and systemic oppression.”
Combining airbrush, acrylic and oil painting to create paintings merging figurative realism with abstraction, she employs bold colors, complex patterns and strong rhythms in her work. She also uses unusual iconography, referencing military might by females and males, along with explosions and destruction, while revealing elements of Japanese “Anime” (hand-drawn and computer animation from Japan). Her work also references her memory and reflections of systems of oppression in the militarized Pacific.
Batcheller’s “Repealed and Replaced” (2021) features a dark green hand crashing through red-clothed limbs, a white-gloved hand and a large white bow. “Kawaii” (2021) takes the explosive theme further, with disjointed body parts, swirls, a star and a flower. “Not Yet” (2021) contains several fists in different colors along with an inverted face. “Fight Pose #1” and “#2” (both 2021) include defiant, shapely female torsos, prepared to fight. Yet the artist transcends her dark influences with her bold colors, balanced, fluid forms, expressive images and cartoon-like symbolism, leaving the viewer with hope toward the future of our world.
Kaitlynn Redell, also based in Los Angeles, explores how new parenthood intersects with her artistic production and identity. Specifically, she explores the invisibility of new motherhood in three Digital C-prints. “Not Her(e) (Rug)” (2016) is a photo of herself mostly hidden beneath a rug, with only her lower legs and upper arms showing, as her infant daughter lies on top of the rug, holding onto her hands. This harmonious composition reveals the deeper issue of the new mother feeling smothered by caring for the new addition to her family. In “Not Her(e) (Stuffed Animal)” (2017), Redell is presumably dressed (and hidden) as a large Easter bunny, embracing her child. In “Not Her(e) (Walker)” (2017), she is beneath a walker, covered with a large quilt, with only her arms sticking out, as her daughter rides the walker.
While Redell’s photos have humorous aspects, their deeper intention is to artfully draw attention to the plight of motherhood today, to the reality that caretakers are often hidden and rendered as insignificant beneath the people they take care of. Her images, while harmonious in composition and coloration, also have conceptual aspects, as the viewpoints or concepts expressed in them are as important as the materials used and the artistic execution.
Mirrors, around in various forms for millennia, enable us to clearly see our reflections. Yet the concept of the mirror as a reflection of the mind is explored in several Eastern philosophies. The concept of the mirror in some Buddhist philosophies, or the process of looking inward, is said to provide us with a means to perceive the true aspects of our lives. In a similar way, the exhibition, ”Mirror” aptly explores three artists’ proclivity to examine their selves in their work, and to encourage viewers to also see their own deeper and perhaps artistic natures.
“Mirror” is on view through April 16 at Irvine Fine Arts Center; Mon. – Thu., 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. www.cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center/current-exhibitions.