Sondheim Finalists 2015: Magnolia Laurie recreates illusions of memory and landscape in her paintings and structures

Like a pair of billboards in a foggy mist, a two-tiered wooden structure holds up two oil paintings on wood panels, one painted in washes of juicy magentas and crimsons and the other bleached out in white. We can just barely make out the texture of the white panel, which mimics the linear pattern in its pair that resembles sticks or lumber scattered on the ground. With the color panel in front of the white panel, Magnolia Laurie’s floor piece ‘an odd comfort in stillness and the suggestion of a fickle fate’ suggests two levels of perception, one that is closer and clearer to the viewer, the other obscured by both literal and illusionistic distance.

Though she takes some of her paintings off the wall and mounts them onto three-dimensional structures, Laurie’s work still functions as painting. The wooden structures erected at the center of the room act less like sculptural objects and more like deconstructed walls, eliminating the barrier between the image and receding levels of space. In pieces like the beachy wall painting ‘there were multiple fumbled attempts’ and in the aforementioned ‘an odd comfort,’ Laurie seems to recreate the three-dimensional structures as two-dimensional rubble, a second level of deconstruction and a literal manifestation of the way the mind builds and subsequently disassembles memory.

By taking the paintings off the wall, their depth creates a sort of black hole in the middle of the room, a space within a space—in a similar way that the mirrors, leaning against two of the three structures, reflect their immediate environment (including the cement blocks that ground the structures), creating the illusion of pattern that at once expands in space and is flattened to the surface of the mirror.

The wall paintings, conversely, propel isolated fragments of light from the dead end of the wall. That optical magic reflects the way that we project and invert our perceptions and memories of our environments and experiences, creating in our minds both patterns and voids in what we perceive to be reality. The title of each piece acts as a poetic marker of the projected moment’s significance; the titles are poignant yet ambiguous.

The spatial illusion Laurie creates with color dominates the gallery, convexing and concaving in pigmented pulses that echo off the walls. She plays with an expansive range of hues and opacities, from quiet earth tones to full-blown pigment porn. Her application of the paint is both playful and meticulous, pushing paint 

in fluid, swerving motions against hard, straight strokes in ‘there were multiple fumbled attempts’ and collocating hard, methodically repeated lines on one panel and amorphous clouds on another in the diptych ‘ash and moss, hold us together.’

Most of the paintings resemble vague landscapes, as if muddled by memory or altered by shifts in time or climate. Though we often brush aside weather as the trivial subject of small talk, the feeling or smell of the air and the potency and color of light in the sky informs our memories significantly, and Laurie harnesses that force by creating highly specific climates in otherwise-ambiguous spaces. The misty washes of warm grays and yellow tones in ‘the near to far’ and ‘projectiles come to rest, we understand that better in hindsight’ mimic the atmosphere of a severe incoming summer storm or a tornado. A group of four narrow and oddly vertically oriented landscapes breathe winter: ‘in awe of nothing’ and ‘a potential turning point’ invoke icy stillness in the air. Beside them, ‘a means to measure change’ and ‘between here and there’ feel like cold, marshy rain.

Together, the modest panels and structures generate a powerful yet nuanced collection of psychological visualizations. Laurie does not merely illustrate or represent the perceptions of the clouded mind; she recreates them. (Maura Callahan)

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