A Love Letter to LA Offers a Haunting Magic
Magic is the word that first comes to mind when describing the two-artist exhibition currently at Launch Gallery. A Love Letter is an exhibition of landscapes — quintessentially Los Angeles landscapes — that serve as landmarks for both the city’s, and the artists’, zeitgeist.
While the very word “landscape” is meant to describe the portrayal of scenic views, in this exhibition that scenery encompasses more than a cityscape or forest; it includes a personal landscape, a view of the world as defined by the City of Angels in which the artists reside. Both seem clearly in love with the town whose very name conjures images of winged beings flitting among the neon signs and hiking paths, past palms and flowering trees, bringing both darkness and light, perhaps intertwined.
The result for these artists are works that feature a profusion of light and a realm of surprising stillness even in the most urban of scenes. Trees abound – Lynne McDaniel’s trees are often a forest, deciduous or evergreen, and while taken from her own walks in the LA area, they have a quality that essentially defines LA; Lindsey Warren focuses on palms, and when she includes other trees they have a more exotic, decidedly Southern California nature.
Warren has created vibrant oil-on-canvas works that fully embrace the film-industry-coined description of the “Magic Hour,” that brief time when the blue sky goes gold before fading into an overripe sunset. Her images are stylistically heightened photorealism, depicting buildings and traffic lights, palm trees and street scenes, all under near-twilight and ever-glowing skies. The views represent a time that seems to be an eternal summer, a narrative California dream constructed from landscape. Warren tells her story of the city, capturing its architecture, flora and fauna, and above all the quality of its sky — of day on the edge of transition into night.
Warren offers the shadows of palms: palms over buildings, palms gracing a prosaic stoplight. She gives us wavering fronds and tropical blooms, such as a white bird of paradise. Her trees and plants overall have either a tropical or desert feel, and are lingeringly green even as the sky darkens them to near-silhouettes. One of my favorite works includes a full moon and two palms so close together that they seem lovingly paired, their green and brown fronds still sun-kissed.
In Venice Twilight, a radiant painting that reveals a section of the Venice skyline, the central structure highlights windows that reflect the coming sunset, embraced by a semi-circle of seven palms. Other city skyline paintings feature only a few distant trees; in one, Inglewood Sunset, a plane soars overhead in a patch of blue above the gold and orange sunset, while billboards and the curved poles of streetlights serve as stand-ins for plant life. Palms and other trees cluster again, pure silhouettes, in the glowing sunset hovering over Hollywood Forever.
Each of Warren’s light-filled works are steeped in LA sunshine, burgeoning sunsets, shadows imprinted on sidewalks called into existence by the sun. When moonlight is present, it is yet in thrall to the last embrace of sunlight. Warren, an LA native, has found a dream-perfect technicolor palette to make even viewers the most skeptical of the city’s charms thrill at the chance to celebrate them. Having been away from Los Angeles on the east coast for a number of years, she returned to her hometown three years ago and is clearly embracing its history, its poetry, and seeing the city with fresh, visionary eyes.
Lynne McDaniel’s rich, mostly monochromatic oils on paper are darker and moodier than Warren’s. McDaniel paints verdant, bucolic scenes, yet in some works, such as her 2019 Eastbank, she creates a reminder of a world that may be teetering on the edge of apocalypse. McDaniel often goes dark, emotionally, in her work, and says here she was trying to depict solely the lush landscape around her home and studio in the Arroyo Seco. “But, I couldn’t help myself,” she laughs. “I did add in a few less peaceful images.” In the afore-mentioned, large-scale work, McDaniel’s luxuriant, tree-filled scene has wavering bits of red: the imminent disaster of fire in the fertile hills. Already the dark trees seem filled not just with the shadow of nightfall but smoky, as if the artist’s panoramic view grants us one last, lush look at nature, all too easily turned to ash.
A beautiful series of drawings created on accordion-fold paper in charcoal and graphite, January 2015, gives a stunning series of views along a road that leads into the woods. The road appears to be dirt, the view is long, more trees tower like cathedrals in the distance. The scene is both intensely peaceful, filled with dusky quiet, and also haunting. Where does this road lead? How dark will those trees be when the road at last comes to an end?
More ethereal is her 2019 Untitled (arroyo). This painting gives us a view of trees that are carefully delineated; we see them as separate entities rather than forest. The scene is a captured moment, a moment’s rest from a hike in the woods. The trees are watchful and waiting. They seem to ask what will the person watching them bring? If the trees offer shelter and shade and rest, will the person viewing the scene appreciate that peacefulness, or shatter it?
McDaniel describes her work in general as a response to the environmental issues facing California: from climate change to fires, drought. But the works exhibited here are also beautiful, dense images taken from her daily walks near her studio. The primarily black and white palette evokes old photographs and 19th century Hudson River School landscape artists, such as Thomas Cole, if the gold and green hills in The Oxbow had been viewed from a more intimate perspective and gone black. Her work serves as a modern take on romanticism and dotted with an entirely original sense of the ominous and glorious.
Like Warren, McDaniel’s work is luminous, a tribute to light and shadow and the sensuous beauty of Los Angeles. It is both real landscape and dream — a heightening of the senses, an expression of love for the city and the nature within and around it. Simply put, both artists’ work and their differing landscapes quench the thirst of viewers longing to drink deep the magic of this golden metropolis.