Various Small Fires (VSF) is pleased to present Chainsawer, Bicyclist and Reading in Bed, the west coast solo debut of painter Mernet Larsen (b. 1940). An opening reception will be held February 28th, the works will be on view through April 11, 2015.
For decades, Larsen exhibited almost exclusively in her home state of Florida. It is only in the past several years that critics, curators, and artists outside of the Southeast have discovered the significance of her distinctive oeuvre. As if extruding cubism through a 21st Century prism, Larsen’s extreme yet rigorous geometric and perspectival distortions complicate the discourse of representational painting and provide context for a younger generation of painters such as Dana Schutz and Avery Singer. Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times of Larsen’s 2012 New York solo debut that her paintings, “navigate the divide between abstraction and representation … [they] are extremely viable participants in an extensive, possibly global conversation about how to portray modern three-dimen- sional life on two-dimensional surfaces.”
With a combination of impossible perspectives, angular abstraction, and improvisational textures, Larsen’s paintings echo those of Constructivist masters Malevich and El Lissitzky, but have also been related to emaki (Japanese scroll painting), early Sienese perspectival painting, and the proto-Surrealist paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.
In Chainsawer, Bicyclist, and Reading in Bed, Larsen captures encounters among seemingly alienated individuals, ranging from mundane to portentous, each composed as a wry paradox of distress and detachment. In “Explanation”, meeting participants seated around a conference table distractedly listen to a gesticulating speaker as they are enveloped by the room’s green linoleum floor; in “Sit-ups Leg-lifts”, two spandex-clad women on mats are elongated as if by their exertions into rigid planks of curiously kinetic stasis; and in “Chainsawer and Bicyclist”, a suburban afternoon is fraught with danger as an impassive bicyclist careens down his incongruous perspectival plane into a chainsaw passively held by an off-balance yet oblivious woman.
“As if I were leaving this life and had to take with me only a very few concrete images: this is what it was, not good, not bad, just what stood out. Not ephemeral, not photo or film-like, but memory turned into object, monumentalized.” — Mernet Larsen
Larsen refers to her paintings as “analogs” rather than “representations” because they distill each scenario into a radical socio-spatial analog, not as recorded by observation but as mentally construct- ed. Larsen’s paintings poignantly ask: what does it mean to exist in time?
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