The darkness of these paintings makes them difficult to see, and I struggle, pressing my old eyes as close to the surface of each painting as I am practicably able; the one of each diptych that is on paper framed with museum glass, as well as the ones that are oil on panel. Retreating to the center of the room, I notice how well they look at a distance, so my strategy for looking becomes a movement that might resemble a performance: I stand close, as though to acknowledge and greet each work, then I turn and move away to study it again. Instead of following along the wall from painting to painting, I make a series of uneven triangles that eventually complete the square. (I almost feel that I should bow at each rest, as though in some semi-formal dance.)
As the paintings in Monica Majoli’s exhibition at L & M Arts alternate materials, between oil on panel and lithographic ink with acrylic ink and gouache on paper, so do they alternate subjects, between intimate figure studies of past lovers and abstracted architectural spaces; additionally, sometimes the material also serves as the subject. And in any case the relationship between subjects – people and spaces – is so intimate and personal that they are nearly one thing.
In one oil painting, Amy, the face of a woman looks slightly down, and her blonde hair falls over the right side of her face; her lips are parted and her eyes open. The gold of this woman’s hair is beautiful as light catches in it. (Does this light come from a hallway behind her? From some unknown source in front of the painting? From some memory of the artist?)
I imagine that I can feel Amy’s breath, and the artist’s breath, and placed as I am between them I feel myself too present, as though I stand between two lovers. In an interesting way I am more present and aware than the painting’s subject, the artist’s past lover Amy; for she is a fantasy of the artist’s memory. And so Majoli and I look upon this woman together in the darkness of Majoli’s mind – the artist with one appreciation and me with another.
Indeed, my face or body are present in all these works. In the oil paintings, I can almost see details of my face reflected in the surface, and I imagine my experience of seeing is similar to Majoli’s experience of searching her memory for clues to her own past. In the abstractions framed in glass I appear distinctly well at a distance, as though I am standing in a room, the memory of which Majoli suggests with paint and ink.
The press release tells me that Majoli’s works on paper in this show are made using lithographic ink, and that this material is associated by the artist with her father, who is an Italian print-maker. This father has been missing from the artist’s life since childhood, and so once again, as with the women in the oil paintings, when I look at these works and find myself in them, I join the artist and together we consider her absent past loves: her father as well as her former lovers.
Included in the press release as an allusive reference is a photograph of the artist’s own apartment, which has black mirrored walls; this photo was taken by the artist. Doorways and a drapery provide verticality to this image, and a painted corner causes a perspectival shift as two lines descend from near each edge to meet at the upper center of the painting’s panel. This shape is repeated abstractly in Black Mirror (Judie), and in this physical repetition I find reason to see place in all the works on paper.
My experience of the exhibition on my second visit, as it was first, is an experience of looking into darkness, and finding in the darkness those things we do there: fantasize, remember, love and dream.
L & M Arts, Monica Majoli will be on view through January 5, 2013