Toxic Skies and Heavenly Light: Alexandra Wiesenfeld at Klowden Mann
Alexandra Wiesenfeld (NAP #61) paints massive landscapes suggestive of the California painting tradition of the past, but she reinvigorates these on a grand scale and reimagines them with bold colors, frantic lines, and bursts of energy.
Her recent show “When I When If When Lie When Life (Xavier Villaurrutia)” at Klowden Mann offered viewers a delightful experience of envelopment. Her grandiose oil paintings run six feet tall or wide and powerfully connect the walls of the gallery, enclosing viewers in with a warm, painted, and natural embrace.
Working at times from more well-known images like those of Ansel Adams, Wiesenfeld also works from unique composite images she has disassembled and pieced back together. She creates a fantastical photo collage from which to paint and then enlarges them to a monumental scale on canvas. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor
In Desire Weisenfeld depicts a beautiful interior of some sort of grotto or mountain cave. As viewers, we are positioned as if we are inside, looking up to an opening hole of light in the mountain. Wild lines suggest rocks and bold bursts of color create the richness of this seemingly magical underwater or underground interior.
Part of the disjuncture here then is caused by her collage process, where the images do not always completely make sense and line up the way one might expect. We are in this grotto, though we are not sure if that is what it is or how we got there.
Often, she imbues her allusions to the mountainous rocky forms of a landscape with bold bursts of scribbles and vigorous brushstrokes, creating a feeling of energy lying dormant in the rocks around us. In contrast, her skies are soft, subtle, and almost haunting in their peacefulness. Looking closely, viewers see a smooth surface of oil paints, blended together seamlessly with occasional delicate swirls of a muted brush.
Scrap of a Dream provides one such moment -- mountains butt up energetically to a wide-open, serene purple sky. The contrast between the craggy, rocky cliff and the peaceful heavenly sky is jilting and wonderful. Looking at the sky closely, I felt weightless and free, as if feeling the promise that sky could bring me if I were standing on the cliff itself.
Colors fluctuate between natural and other-worldly, calling attention to those moments in real life when nature surprises us with a neon sunset, or toxically foreboding green fog. She captures the light that many describe as so specifically Southern Californian, because of a unique geography that produces a more bold and pure light, similar to that of Southern France and the Mediterranean. This light is one that can literally stop you in your tracks as you walk through or drive around the city at dusk, surprising you that it is in fact of this world. Though sometimes altered and enhanced by fires and smog, the sky is uniquely ours and Wiesenfeld captures that beautifully throughout.
In Threads, for instance, Wiesenfeld conjures a foreboding green and blue cloudy sky that eerily creeps past a power line, the only explicit allusion I saw to man in her works. As viewers, we stand beneath as if on the sidewalk looking up to the towering pole, wires, and sky above. In Yellow Lake, she has cast the pale light of dawn over the entire mountainscape in one of those tricks of the eyes we experience often -- seeing a color shape our entire view of the sky and all of our surroundings it touches. Her yellow sky suggests the crisp, clear air one would feel experiencing this light in the great outdoors.
There are also small amazing touches throughout the gallery space, like the moment the smaller painting When I... lies perfectly between an opening in the gallery reception room, framed poetically by an opening in the wall. The mountain precipice pictured is situated between two gallery walls, as if the viewer looks through the office and up into the tight and narrow walls of the two mountain as they climb up before you.
Alexandra Wiesenfeld’s work is powerful, bold, energizing, warm, and inviting. Forget everything you know about classic, monumental landscapes and welcome her shifting perspective to shift your own.
Alexandra Wiesenfeld is a German-born, Los Angeles-based artist who has exhibited throughout the United States and in Europe. Wiesenfeld’s work will be shown in “Oasis” at the Sturt Haaga Gallery September 13th - December 6th and in January, she will be showing paintings in the Hilbertraum in Berlin.
Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.