Three museum exhibitions at PMA have me asking the question: What is a mountain and what is a molehill? Granted, human perceptions are the basis for human realities, but how stable are these perceptions? What connotes a living entity and what is stability? Science and philosophy continue to evolve in discussing these questions, with artists intuitively and/or intellectually exploring mankind’s shifting insights. Ginger Slonaker, Mark Garrett, and Gertrude Myrrh Reagan present three explorations addressing man in relationship to his mountainous environment.
Ginger Slonaker (Arabella’s Gallery) is an imaginative painter whose work, from a distance, seduces the viewer with whimsical form and color. Closer inspection reveals unsettling imagery that delves deeply into a personal symbolism of the intimate psychological landscape. Questions are posed and possible answers explored as Slonaker takes us into dark, watery depths and back out again into the light. Was that a minor event that took us into the deep, or a major upset? A molehill or a mountain? Perhaps the path to lightness of being is the same as that for richness of being?
Ginger Slonaker's "Hydra" plays with symbolism.
In viewing Slonaker’s imagery, we begin to wonder if it is better to weep in despair or to laugh at human folly when considering the human condition. How much say do we have in how we individually address our existence, much less affect our extended environment?
Mark Garrett (Decker A Gallery) uses both paint and meticulously cut geographical maps to present a more distant view of man in nature. Along the right wall are intricately designed cuttings of muscular systems, anatomical maps, that have us puzzling over the essence of human awareness.
Mark Garrett intrigues with selections from his "Trapezius" series.
The combination of abstract design and scientific data hints at the relationships between physicality (muscles, tendons, veins, moistures) and non-physicality (emotions, energies, intuitions, intentional thoughts).
Surrounding these intimate abstractions are cut and collaged map paintings of geographical and political space: landmasses, islands, countries, continents, and nebulas. These mapped landscapes appear to erode and flow out into oceans and celestial atmospheres. Are these depictions of bird migration flight patterns? Atmospheric changes caused by normal global cycles (shifting weather systems and the extreme passage of time)? Or are these symbolic depictions of mankind’s ability to expedite the decay of our planet (cognitive and emotional thought patterns particular to the human psyche)?
Many of Mark Garrett's collaged maps contain symbolic flow patterns.
While pondering these questions, we marvel at the beauty of the cut paper and flowing, painted lines. Could the artist be saying that the universe is of exquisite design within its shifting natural energies? Or, more disturbingly, is Garrett postulating that mankind, with his zeal for exactingly gorgeous technological inventiveness, has undermined the balance of nature. At what point do we question mankind’s voracious appetite for creativity?
In our third exhibition Gertrude Myrrh Reagan (Decker B Gallery) presents a diverse body of work that again asks the viewer to look beyond the simple to find the profound. With humor and subtle insight, as well as a borrowing of philosophies and imagery from the past, Reagan is able to explore birth, life, decay, death, eternity, and the human psyche’s ability to navigate a path of awareness along such totality.
Central to this exhibition is a large circular Plexiglas sheet upon which is painted a human brain. Instead of the grey matter rendered as twisting tubular masses, Reagan has elaborately draped nude imagery borrowed from the figurative work of past masters, giving an overall effect similar to that of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel… or is this closer to Rodin’s Gates of Hell? Just as with Slonaker and Garrett’s work, it’s all in the shifting perspectives of the viewer.
Alongside this painting is a linocut of multiple human faces seemingly caught in a whirlpool… the terror of drowning? Or maybe not. Closer inspection reveals among the anguished faces quite a few that are passive and actually smiling. Once again, we think we know what we are seeing, but then we take a second look and see a different reality.
Size is illussionistic in Gertrude Myrrh Reagan's conceptual art.
Across the room hang a collection of painted mountain scenes. Here Reagan has been able to mystify us by creating the monumentality of 3D mountains on 2D forms. How is it that she creates such a feeling of depth on a flat surface? Near these, supported on a pedestal, she presents a 3D rendition of the monumental Mount Fuji, this one made out of delicately indigo tie dyed fabric (Japanese shibori style). With this incongruity of medium and subject we end up pondering: What is the essence of mountain sensibility: stability or fragility? What is the nature of upheaval and erosion? Is erosion an ending or a beginning or perhaps instead a matter of perpetual existence?
I walk away from my visit to these three Museum exhibitions with a sense of amusement about the availability of diverse perspectives. I have family in Big Sur. I know what it means for mountains to come tumbling down and lives to be monumentally affected. I know about erosion of the mountain and erosion of the human spirit. Through viewing Slonaker, Garrett, and Reagan’s work I have learned that nothing is simple. Or maybe that all is simple? Perhaps it is just this last musing: How does one think like a mountain? Do we sweat the torrential rains that careen through our sensitive nooks and crannies as being influences that destroy and decay, or do we simply accept the storms as essential nourishment, an opportunity to grow towards a greater inner lightness of being? Regardless of whether we are here to see it, it all comes out in the wash.
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"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole.