As the story goes, the creation of light was the first command given by the Creator.
Light serves as a powerful metaphor of knowledge, clarity, warmth, spirituality. In art light can serve as a stand-in for the experience of higher states of consciousness. Artists through the ages have appreciated the attractive properties of light and incorporated its qualities into their works. From the reflective gold and jewels of Byzantine mosaics to the changing atmospherics of the Impressionists, from the dramatic chiaroscuro of the Baroque painters to the electrically powered pieces of contemporary artists, each era has found its own articulation for the divinely originated illumination.
Obliq Art’s October exhibit featured husband and wife artists Larry Ortega and Sandra Ortega. Although their mediums and approaches were extremely different, both evoked the transcendental perspectives the depiction of light gives.
There is a strong tradition of assemblage as an art form in the local Phoenix art scene. Assemblage is a type of sculpture where the artist arranges pre-existing three dimensional objects to create a new art work. The best examples of this still experimental format is where the assemblages no longer function as merely juxtapositions of unrelated items, but are combined into a whole: a resolved, intentional design.
Larry Ortega’s Story Boxes participate in this type of exploration. His work is differentiated from others because he does not use just random found objects for his compositions, but actually crafts many of the elements himself. His part of the exhibit was arranged as a site-specific installation, the works hung in dim light behind a free standing black curtain. Walking through the L-shaped corridor created by the drapery was like entering something between a fun house and the ambulatory of a church.
In the darkness, a series of cubes of translucent, illuminated resin were displayed in wall-mounted, open faced metal boxes. Into the various sizes and shapes of cubes pigments and items had been introduced, creating a wide range of effects that all recalled a common theme-the renewing cycles of creation seen as if on a geologic scale. Somehow the small cubes seemed to enclose vast tracts of sky and earth. They held a sense of great distances and the play of atmospheric conditions. Their containing boxes also had been painted and treated to reinforce the subject matter; in the piece “New Light 2,” the resin cube suggested massive clouds adrift, while the framing case had been encrusted to suggest mineral formations rising out of intense blue water. Larry Ortega’s pieces came together with a sense of reverence, assemblages utilized as works of integration, not fragmentation.
Traditional techniques of art creation also carry expressive power. There is something very beautiful in seeing skillful drawing and the precise use of materials. Phoenix is fortunate to also have many artists working in more classical formats, so we can experience a full range of artistic experiences.
Sandra Ortega’s series of pastel paintings captured physical clarity, light reacting to hard facings of metal and stone. The chrome, glass and enameled metal curves of vintage cars were depicted with photographic accuracy, the soft gradations of pastels controlled to define gracefully designed and glittering but ultimately unyielding surfaces. Into the gleaming planes reflections were introduced, subtly showing the vistas surrounding the vehicles. As a viewer commented on the piece “Black Beauty,” the curves of the automobile also holds the image of the encircling landscape, mirrored as a warped and ghostly echo.
In addition to cars and trains, Sandra Ortega also presented urban scenes of buildings both in sunlight and at night. In the brightness the edifices are stark and looming, solid geometry seeming to bask in the hot sun. These works almost feel like portraits of some notable and dignified person, instead of depictions of architecture. The mood is very different in the rainy nocturnal street scenes; the structures, cars and huddled figures are mostly swallowed in velvety shade, mainly defined by the sheen of light fixtures on wet surfaces. The colors here, the red of taillights, the glow of neon, seem especially rich set in the surrounding darkness.
The interplay between the two diverse but intimately linked artists in “Soul Meets Body” was very dynamic. Each body of work was enhanced by the contrasting applications shown by the other. And throughout all the pieces there was the touch of luminosity which suggested a presence beyond. Let there be light.