Los Angeles

Laura Stein

Thomas Solomon Art Advisory | Bethlehem Baptist Church

The substances of sorcery and of the body are commingled in Laura Stein’s paintings and arrangements of objects. Grainy black and white photographs of bodily products such as blood cells or facial skin, as well as images of various seeds and powders used in the casting of spells, are applied to blocks of wax and to oil-on-canvas paintings.The resulting works are spellbinding in a curiously literal way. Self Portrait (Blood Cells), 1989, consists of five wall-mounted rectangles of white wax in different sizes. Silk-screened enlargements of blood cells appear on the roughened sides of these blocks: their smooth fronts are blank. The wax itself is somewhat translucent, so that one gradually finds whitish clouds and swirls within the otherwise obdurate substance. Looking at these works for any length of time is like watching a blush emerge on someone’s cheeks. The corpuscular patterns on the sides of the forms suggest that the wax stands in for portions of the artist’s own body.

The cellular images in Self Portrait (Twenty-five Blood Cells), 1989, have been silk-screened onto an equal number of beeswax squares, forming a grid. The arrangement of high contrast photo enlargements of microscopic cells inflects the formal stability of the waxy assemblage with melancholic overtones, recalling a medical display of infected tissue. Stein also uses the degradation of an over enlarged image as a metaphor for corporeal dissolution and decay in Self Portrait (Upper Left Cheek, Enlarged Many Times), 1988. A single photograph is surrounded by a band of gold pigment, which vertically bisects a field of grayish-purple oil encaustic. The central image, which resembles a rutted, gravelly field, is morbidly transformed by the work’s parenthetical titular reference, but the effect of that transformation is muted by the artist’s use of the image as a compositional element in the painting.

Several works are named after charms and incantations taken from a book about witchcraft. Among the most compelling was Double Fast Luck, 1989, an installation of several shallow glass disks, which were suspended by plastic filaments from the ceiling. Each disk contained a small pile of some substance: patchouli, juniper berries, rose petals, or a finely shredded dollar bill that looked, at first glance, like another merely vegetal residue. A thin horizontal line in green acrylic was painted on a nearby wall, demarcating the conceptual space within which the components of the potion floated. The delicately balanced charm of the work guaranteed the success of its spell.

Buzz Spector