New York

Lois Lane

Willard Gallery

I have seen other paintings by Lois Lane, and I don’t quite understand how she got from there to here. There doesn’t seem to be any linear progression. In her new work, the consistency was to be found in a sensibility and roughness which pulled disparate things together. None of the paintings looked very much alike. Lane used to lean heavily toward process—folding, stapling—but none of that has been carried over in the new work. What is now important, it seems, are iconic elements, which are both direct and associative, blunt and allusive. There were iconic elements which were not repeated in every painting; there were drawings which didn’t necessarily have to do with the big, ambitious paintings; there were some small-scale repeats of the larger works, with tiny, cartoon cutout figures pasted to them. Lane does not work from master plans, systems or what might be a “problem.”

The four large paintings were mostly white, with the ground dirty, uneven, smudged. The images were slightly off-center, sometimes bipartite. One had thin, closed-in shapes done with light pencil, which looked like cross-sectioned root systems. Another had successive layerings of white tuberous bulbs or roots, with a smallish, bright red cross. Another had two shapes which are as difficult to describe as they are memorable: essentially organic plant forms, they also work as branches, blood corpuscles, worms, even wrenches or labia. They begin in black at the bottom, and, continuing up the “stem,” gradually fade into a deep red at the “bloom.”

There was also a painting which had the root system with humorous dog or bear profiles added in a curious brown stain. These shapes, by being leveled to the curves of four legs, tail, head, nose and ears, also took on the characteristics of the tuberous forms. There were subtle color plays, too: matte and shiny whites were contrasted with red; paintings with all-black grounds gave red a totally different emotional effect. There is a metamorphosis of color from white to black to red to brown which parallels the accumulative strength of associative meaning in the iconic symbols and signs from roots, bulbs and stems to flowers, crosses and animals.

The red cross might be a version of O’Keeffe’s looming black cross in the New Mexico paintings of the 1930s. It is not rigid at all, but represents something bursting beyond its boundaries with an organic bulge which is almost “pregnant.” It is, first of all, a Red Cross, a sign of disaster and relief. It is certainly more than a striking visual element, or a geometric flower form. (Its smallness is a measure of Lane’s propensity for daring shifts in scale both within a single painting and in the show as a whole.) Whereas O’Keeffe stressed the flower and the cross, Lane completes the inventory with roots and stems, taking her beyond literal readings into unearthed associations.

Jeff Perrone