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Going Back to Basics : Lita Albuquerque uses natural elements such as rocks, copper and coal to explore time, space and human existence.

October 07, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

BEL-AIR — Rocks speak to Los Angeles artist Lita Albuquerque. They have since she was a girl growing up in Tunisia, in the area that was the ancient city-state of Carthage.

They speak of time and place, of the Earth's essence and of our own existence because, after all, we humans are made up of elements not so unlike those of a rock or a piece of coal. In "Remembrance," her series of paintings and sculpture, they bring the natural world, which is so much a part of her being, and her personal story into the center of her art.

"In this particular series, I am using the rock as a metaphor for the planet Earth, and thinking of it as a fragment floating through space," said Albuquerque before the opening last Sunday of her solo show, "Remembrance: paintings and sculpture by Lita Albuquerque," at the University of Judaism's Platt Gallery.

"My work does come from my observance of nature, from looking at the Earth from a great perspective of time and space. I was especially impacted by my years in Tunisia, the cross-cultural influences and the geography of the place, the colors."

The intense blue hues of her work, generated from powdered pigment, are the colors of her childhood home's sea and sky. The gold from gold leaf is of its sun.

In Tunisia, "the nighttime sky was not black, but blue," she said. "What I'm interested in is the effect of the sea, sun and sky on our physiology, the physiological need and response to them."

"Remembrance" is the first exhibit to open in the gallery since the Jan. 17 earthquake closed the space.

"As soon as I came into Lita's studio, I was struck by the presence of the work," said Judith Samuel, the gallery coordinator. "It has a universal context, of course, but within a Judaic context, the rock is another symbol for God. The aftermath of the earthquake brought a new demeanor to the space, a rebirth of the gallery. It took nine months."

Inherent in the 15 works on view is the "idea of transformation, the idea that we can all transform and re-create ourselves," said Victor Raphael, a member of the University of Judaism's Fine Arts Council and the exhibit curator.

Each of the earliest works in the "Remembrance" series, which Albuquerque began in 1988, presents a square, painted panel with a metal--often copper leaf--disk at its center. A rock emanates from the disk's center.

Copper, which is "very Islamic," Albuquerque said, is also "conductive. I talk about the reflectivity of the planet. What I'm interested in is bringing up the natural world on an equal par to logic. We could describe all of these works in scientific terms."

Later works include vibrant auras around the disk and a piece of coal rather than rock. Albuquerque uses coal for "what it represents in terms of time and information, and that it comes from the core of the Earth," she said. "I'm putting all these elements out as questions about 'What is matter?' These objects are very much objects of perception--phenomenological. One perceives them through the senses."

Albuquerque said: "I'm really talking about the origin, both organic and inorganic. We are matter, but we truly exist beyond matter. You can't measure it."

A recent untitled work depicts the horizon of the Earth, painted in black, against deep blue space. Beneath the painting lies a glass box filled with gold-leaf fragments. Here she questions "what was the alchemical work?" she said. What was the process that transformed base metals into gold? But she explained that she seeks not so much a literal answer, but a more poetic one.

To shed some light on her process, Albuquerque has included an "alchemical workshop" in the center of the gallery. On display are artist's pages--her writings about the ideas behind the pieces--as well as journal writings that began Jan. 17, after the earthquake. Elements have been set on a scale, calibrated, measured. Gold and coal symbolize the equilibrium of light and dark. Numbers on paper suggest another kind of information in the work.

"I wanted to do something representative of my studio at home, the inner works of how I get from here to there," she said. Through writing, meditation and artistic processing of elements, "I project myself to all known reaches of the outer universe."

Albuquerque said she "would love to be an astronaut, to go on one of those shuttles." However, she's able to travel through time, space and matter without the aid of a supersonic vehicle.

Where and When

What: "Remembrance: paintings and sculpture by Lita Albuquerque."

Location: University of Judaism's Platt Gallery, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays. Closed Saturdays. Ends Nov. 9.

Call: (310) 476-9777, Ext. 276.

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