New York

Pat Lasch

Pat Lasch’s “Family Portraits” resemble cakes. They are white or pink, decorated with thin, icinglike paint. Delicate streamers of “frosting” mesh into ribbons or parting curtains. Sometimes the surfaces break out into roses with discreet green leaves. They resemble old-fashioned announcement cards, or sometimes stages. But they are really like shrines. In the center of each work is one or more photograph, always of a member of the Lasch family. A cake indicates a special occasion. On special occasions one brings out the camera.

One is titled Blood Is Thicker Than Water But We’re Still Lovers. Two people look out at us uncertainly. Behind them is a sunset over an ocean. Lasch uses photographs which ask what we know when we say we know something. In another painting, which lays out a family tree in photographs, the oldest ones are tintypes, and they have a magnetic mystery. They are darkened, machine-made, unreachable. They are at once objective and strange. We can know exactly what someone looks like but know nothing about him. A three-part portrait of Lasch’s mother does not reveal anything about her life. Social commentary is not possible with these small, crowded images. We are asked to see the arbitrariness of the points in time and the unavailability of those closest to us. Dates mechanically tick out generations or pinpoint lost moments, but the time regained is frozen, inhuman. Lasch tries to get close, to understand the meaning of not knowing.

Women artists are now discovering a subject matter which has never been explored before in the visual arts. They are not presenting an image of struggle and alienation. The male artist finds a world which demands individuality at the expense of humanity. He must work for rapid change and the obsolescence of values, and make a quick mark on the world. The woman artist sees slow growth and the connections between the personal and the public. She sees the continuity of life as a consequence of biology. Families are symbols in Lasch’s paintings for the prospect of continuity and nonalienation. As symbols, they are enshrined in these lovingly created memoirs of a wispy past.

When I was in grade school, my class took a field trip to a mining town in Northern California. We visited a museum which had as its main object of interest a hundred-year-old wedding cake which had been brought to California from the East. Ceremony is how we keep the past alive, and to see that cake was to understand the pull of the past, the necessity of ceremony as a tie to the past. It appeals to a person’s conservative side. Lasch’s paintings are such ceremonies about the past—humble and full. Her experience tells her that such things happen quietly, as concentrated moments of sentiment. One knows this from the work alone.

Jeff Perrone