Friday, July 5, 2013

Between Dark and Night: New Pastels by Mallory Lake

Brattleboro Museum & Art Center
Brattleboro, Vt.
June 29 - October 20, 2013


Mallory Lake
Detail from The Night Train
That colored dust caught in the fibrous terrain of a sheet of paper can evoke power is a testament to the artistic mastery shown by Mallory Lake in her new exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. Her source material, according to chief curator Mara Williams, are stills from film noir movies. Many of the scenes depict classic moments of trains leaving yards and stations at night. In my post on ballpoint pen art, I comment on Jan Fabre's moody scenes as having the feeling that something lurks in the corner. Curator Williams makes the same observation about Lake's new pastels, but I think Lake's new work shows something more internal, and deeper. Something that is, in fact, Freudian -- the unconscious and its movements, all of which are either beyond comprehension, or on the twilight edge of consciousness. The trains and the dramatic lighting and the bursts of steam are all representative of deep psychological drives. One piece (above), entitled The Night Train, even has a blue-eyed eminence prowling, it seems, the border between what we know consciously and what we only sense deep within our selves, like some Cerberus guarding the entry to the Underworld.

Clearly, Lake's pastels are not the kitschy vase of flowers with the errant blossom on the table. Pastels have a long history of portraying landscapes, human figures and portraits, but not much, if anything, that explores a more symbolist world. Perhaps the best know pastel artists are the Impressionist Edgar Degas and American Mary Cassatt, who studied in France with Degas. There were a number of well-known pastel portrait painters in the 18th century as well as the present, including Francesco Clemente, a favorite of mine. I did not realize that Clemente worked in pastels until I started doing research for this post. And, of course, my earlier statement about the scarcity of symbolist pastel artists now needs to be somewhat amended. There is, however, a difference between Lake's and Clemente's versions of symbolism. Lake is much more representational, while Clemente employs a more primitivist style.

Whatever the style, the medium of pastels has a high saturation of color which lends the power to a painting that I spoke of earlier. Pastels are made from the same pigments as oil paints, but the high saturation is the result of decreased refraction which darkens a color. To be a little more technical without going beyond my high school physics, more of the wave lengths are concentrated within a smaller band of the color of the pigment, instead of being spread out over a larger section of the color spectrum. A look at the blue lights on The Night Train is an excellent example of this phenomenon. And, indeed, the intense saturation adds to the psychological effects as well.

To see more of Lake's pastels in this exhibit, click here.

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