‘Wild’ at Art

(Photos by Paula Parisi)

As evenings go, it was a tantalizing mix of paintings and poetry, with a some science thrown in (bonus points!) Definitely worth driving to Torrance for “Margaret Lazzrari – Wild Biology: A Mid-Career Retrospective” at the El Camino College Art Gallery. In fact, I hope to go again before the show ends April 27.

Lazzari is an intrepid explorer of exterior and interior landscapes, and her dreamy, abstract work is the sort of thing I love to look at (and live with, when I’m lucky). That there are amazing realist painters goes without saying, but personally, I prefer art that suggests, inspires and lets the imagination take flight. That my favorite “realist” is the enigmatic Mark Tansey reveals much about my aesthetic sensibilities.

Where Tansey is cool and technical, Lazzari’s work is charged with emotion and warmth, whether it’s at the cellular level of nuclei, conjuring the Earth’s roiling core, or reaching for the cosmos.  Lazzari’s “Floating Series” (including “Holding On,” oil on canvas, 1998) explores “the physical and emotional changes that occur throughout the stages of life,” while those under the “Wild Biology” theme tackles  “microscopic and macroscopic worlds” where our apparently solid surroundings “contain dispersed specks of matter animated by vibrating energy.”

The “Cancer Series,” deals with “the body under assault,” according to Lazzari, who created the images to work through her own bout with the disease 10 years ago. But she’s not too wound up in the pathos of it all to miss the transcendence in loss. Cancer cells, seen under a microscope, can appear quite beautiful in the void. Even contextualized, “the body can become a vessel of transcendence as it’s ravaged with age or disease,” she opines, mingling with guests at “Wild Biology’s” opening reception on Thursday, March 30.

I discovered Lazzari’s work via the book jacket for Catalina, poems by Laurie Soriano. I was assigned to write about Soriano in her capacity as a high-powered entertainment attorney, and thought I’d landed on the poetry website by mistake, only to be dazzled by the poems – by the idea of a lawyer who found time to write poetry (and great poetry at that), and the fact that the lovely cover of her book was an organic, light-exuding abstraction titled “For Laurie.” “Did you really get the artist to paint that beautiful paean to nature for your book?” Soriano said when she bought the piece, it was “Untitled,” noting Lazzari was kind enough to re-name it when asked for permission to use it on the jacket.

So I was delighted to learn that Soriano would contribute a series of original poems inspired by Lazzari’s paintings to the “Wild Biology” exhibit. I could go on and on about Soriano’s writing (and I will, but want to save that for another piece). For now, I’ll defer to the rather perfect characterization of songwriter Cris Williamson, who in the preface to Catalina writes of the “catch and release of gorgeous lines…made up of individual moments.” Soriano’s flashes of instance captured on the “Wild” walls include lines that  “float in all the hues…until you feel the perfect pull you under…” (“Oases”), and sift through “untold jewels of darkness” and “bright air” (“Ascent”).

Soriano and I bonded over a mutual admiration for Virginia Woolf, whose work I had only recently discovered, while Soriano wrote her undergrad thesis on her use of light imagery in The Waves. We agreed, Woolf is a prose poet extraordinaire. “Poetry is a super efficient mode of expression, and I try to choose every word with care. It’s been fun engaging with my painter friend Margaret because her craft is similarly meticulous.”

Imagine, it was only today that I learned about Woolf’s speech, circa 1920, delivered for the London Group of painters, it explored “the marriage of music to poetry” and told how “in the coming age, painting must be similarly united to the other arts.” As chronicled by writer Francis Sitwell (1892-1969), the 15-minute oratory was “a superb display of art, and more remarkably, of feeling.” The same could be said of the collaboration between Lazzari and Soriano, who cut a wild garden path through the world’s gray tedium toward the “heights of fantasy and beauty” that Woolf described.