Myth-Making, Storytelling And Imaginations In Play In Contemporary Identities

Genie Davis, RIOT MATERIAL, February 6, 2020

Reviewed by Genie Davis


Shula Singer Arbel, Carla Jay Harris and Christina Ramos each offer gorgeous, personal, figurative work in Contemporary Identities, now at Launch LA. Each artist explores personal and universal identities through contemporary figurative work.

Arbel’s works are from her Love Hope Memory series. She uses images culled from family photos to inspire figures that remain faceless. These paintings have a haunting quality because of just that — their facelessness, and yet the overall impression is of a kind of quiet joy, something to be shared with viewers, inviting them to add their own memories. Summer 1963 [see slideshow below] is one such example, in which a lustrous aqua pool spreads out around a family of four, bodies relaxed and in the water at the edge of the pool, their faces pale ovals. Her Best Friends features two faceless girls in blue dresses against a vividly colored yellow and orange floral background; the cheerfulness of that backdrop adds a sense of hopefulness to her figures. Darker in tone is the work Arriving on the Shores of America, in which a mother stands beside her daughter against a dark sea on rust-colored sand. The viewer has the sense that the pair has arrived at a so-called safe-haven yet still somehow in peril.


Shula Singer Arbel, Best Friends


Shula Singer Arbel, Arriving On The Shores of America


The artist tells her family’s immigration story, and that of a 60s-era life in LA, but the work reaches into a larger, deeper collective spirit. Arbel says the series began three years ago and “chronicles my parents, Michael and Edith, who met in 1946 in a Displaced Persons Camp in Heidenheim, Germany…to immigration to the U.S., to growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s.” She describes the backgrounds to her faceless figures as “surreal, dreamlike,” and it is not just the lack of facial features on her foreground subjects that renders them so. It is in the evocative body language of the figures, the small and perfect details of clothing or hair, and, as she puts it, her decision to “capture the elusive nature of memory by amplifying some specifics or muting and editing others.”

Arbel’s often vibrant palette contrasts with the featureless faces, heightening their dream-like quality. Her work expresses both her own identity and those identities into which viewers can project themselves, creating an encompassing zeitgeist that is poetic, beautiful, and elegiac.

Carla Jay Harris’ series, Celestial Bodies, does not entirely eliminate facial features in the work, but the features of these powerful women are not the focus either. Rather, Harris creates regal, spiritual images that combine a range of mediums. She terms them a link between the mythological and the real; travels as a child in a military family, and a sense of rootlessness, of being an outsider attracted her to the inclusiveness of legend. Harris notes that this work “is a mixture of photography and design to create my own reality…inspired by my childhood fascination with mythology.” She says she wants people to come away from her work “feeling a sense of belonging and connection.”


Carla Jay Harris, Untitled (Warrior)