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ART NOTEBOOK

Finely Made 'Constructions' Gives Artist's Images a 'Sanctuary'

April 25, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

The unexpected journeys artists take through their work often begin with the need to achieve a relatively simple, specific goal. Michele Ogilvie's finely made "Constructions," on view at Sherry Frumkin Gallery, evolved from her efforts to stop the deterioration of her photographs. "That image will always be there," she said. "I'm symbolically immortalizing it."

About two years ago, she also felt the urge to place these photographs--of such subjects as trees, leaves, fruit, flowers and birds--within three-dimensional box structures, giving each image "a sanctuary," she said.

She continued to build the boxes, some of metal, some of wood. She included doors and windows and the natural objects photographed: seeds, willow branches, feathers--and metal pieces in the shapes of circles and squares. She had made about a dozen of them before she stopped to consider what they meant to her.

"It was a subconscious release. After I had all this work in my studio, I had to ask myself why I did this," she said. She realized that the work was "tied in with what was going on personally, what was going on in the world around me and my relationship with the world. You see what's happening to the planet, and you want to put things in a shrine, a safe place. I'm trying to protect the fragile. There is a story behind each piece."

Many of the objects within a work come in threes, representing the three parts of the self--mind, body and soul. Threesomes of seeds, fruits and metal squares in two pieces of an alchemy-inspired series called "Squaring of the Sphere" signify the metamorphosis from the essence of life to life itself, and finally to the concept of the wholeness of mind and body as symbolized by the squaring of the circle.

Six works are composed of nine boxes, designed in a tick-tack-toe format to express the notion that chance and fate direct a portion of our lives. Among them is "Race Without Reason." Three clocks, one with hands at five minutes to 12, form its center. The four corner boxes contain images of the ocean from virgin sea to its present industrialized state.

In "Taking Feathers From a Wing," made at the time of the riots in Los Angeles last year, Ogilvie shackled feathers to concrete boxes. Although she has provided some written descriptions of the stories in the tick-tack-toe series, these and all of her constructions leave room for viewers' personal interpretations.

Her exploration into why she was making these boxes led her to Carl Jung's theories and novels by Hermann Hesse. Three of her works, "Narcissus and Goldmund," "The Glass Bead Game" and "Steppenwolf," convey the internal dramas of the characters in Hesse's books of the same titles.

Like Hesse's characters, Ogilvie is on a personal search and a universal one. All of the stories conveyed through her constructions "relate to existence and loss and finding one's place," she said. "We all carry around these feelings."

"Michele Ogilvie: Constructions" is open from 10:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through May 8 at Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 1440 9th St., Santa Monica. Call (310) 393-1853.

'LOST BOYS': Next door to Sherry Frumkin at Koplin Gallery, "The Lost Boys" of Kerry James Marshall's acrylic and collage on canvas paintings did not have the chance to find their place. There was no Peter Pan to help them. Caught in the Never-Never Land of urban violence, they were gunned down before they grew up.

In an approximately 8-by-10-foot painting that seems fanciful at first glance, two very young black boys play amid familiar objects of childhood--balls, blocks, a toy car. But one of them holds a gun. Although it is pink and seems to be a toy, it appears threatening. References to POWs and police lines make it clear that the boys' fate is not by choice.

Nine small paintings present stylized portraits of young black men that memorialize not specific youths, but the hundreds of young men who lost their childhoods even before they lost their lives. Almost all bear an a.k.a. in their titles--such as "Young Blood," "Lil Bit" and "Baby Brother"--emphasizing their loss of identity and the need to create one.

Marshall's sensitive renderings of these vacant-gazed boys elicit compassion, be they likely gang members or innocent bystanders.

BOOKING ART: Lezley Saar has turned another area of the Koplin Gallery into "The Athenaeum," a sanctuary in which 24 of her art books come off the walls and up from the floor for your reading pleasure.

Using real books that she hollows out, fills with found objects and mementos and occasionally attaches to quaint chairs, tables and music stands, she tells stories about everything from the loss of innocence and youth in her "Paradise Lost" to the effects of battle in "War and Peace."

Although books such as "My Diary" reflect serious personal concerns, including the dilemmas of being female and of mixed race, others are packed with a sharp sense of humor. "Overwhelming Evidence," an homage to the mystery genre, contains gummy-looking little shoes. In "Let Us Pay," the Pope, covered with a prayer book, is waist deep in money.

Themes of religious, political and sexual power permeate several books, coming together most pointedly in her "Machiavelli" and "Sor Juana." An illegitimate child, Sor Juana became a lady of the Spanish court in 17th-Century Mexico. She gave up the privileges of her position to become a nun so she could create a literary salon, collect books and write.

"Kerry James Marshall: The Lost Boys" and "Lezley Saar: The Athenaeum" is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays through May 8 at Koplin Gallery, 1438 9th St., Santa Monica. Call (310) 319-9956.

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