Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A., 2003, cut paper and acrylic polymers on plexiglas mounted to acrylic on panel, 60"x60"
Layering, both literal and metaphorical, is central to Lane Twitchell's art. Visitors to the Brooklyn artist's exhibit at Auburn's Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center will have much to look at and think about.
Typically measuring between four to six feet square, Twitchell's large cut paper on panel paintings are the show's focus. Although the phrase "cut paper" suggests flatness and delicacy, these pieces have a decidedly tactile, relief-like feel. The intricate painted cutouts—repeated in the manner of a child's paper snowflake—rest on Plexiglas, which is itself affixed to a wooden panel. In some cases, there is another cutout layer behind the glass.
Figuratively, these pieces assail the viewer with layers of sense and meaning. One is immediately struck by their luminous, lurid colors as well as their abstract patterning, their curves and lattices. In most cases, one quickly gets a sense of their rigorous symmetrical order. Understanding these qualities more fully takes time and effort. In addition, a close look reveals an abundance of iconographic detail, often barely legible. Although much is often made of Twitchell's Mormon upbringing (he was born in Salt Lake City in 1967), much of the iconography is more broadly American; roads and suburban architecture are recurring themes. His horror vacui (fear of empty spaces) can be seen as a metaphor for the nation's historical sense of manifest destiny.
The pieces on display can be classified based on their use of symmetry: bilateral (with the dividing axis running vertically down the middle or diagonally between the top left and bottom right corners) or radial. Others break from overall symmetry in various ways.
The paintings from the first category are, by and large, the strongest in the show. Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A. is a standout. Its diagonal axis and its matching off-kilter low horizon give the viewer the feeling of flying above —or into—the tumultuous city. Colors are appropriately oveheated: reds plus hazy pinks and yellowish off-whites dominate, while spots of cooler colors provide contrast. Below the horizon, lines converge towards a vanishing point. Above rises the "sun," which looks more like some alien citadel. Imagery is interwoven throughout: roller-coaster roadways and whiplash walls, palm trees, crosses, arrows, streetlights and billboards. Oriented the same way and sharing a similar color-scheme and title, The Blood and Sins of This Generation can be seen as a companion piece to L.A.. Its iconography suggests the junkyard as well as the road.
As strange and ornate as they are, Heartland and Smoghead are perhaps the most conventional pieces in the show, at least in terms of composition. Their nearly perfect mirroring of left and right is suggestive of portraiture. Heartland's central cross (not an important element of Mormon symbolism) and stained glass-like grid resemble a more conventional religious art.
The two radially symmetric pieces - 4 A.M. and Mythic America or How the West Was One - are less compelling. Perhaps the decorative, overly repetitive structure fights Twitchell's narrative tendencies. 4 is the richer of the pair. Pale pink, gold, and silver coat a filigree which conflates engineering and nature. Mythic is both visually static (unlike 4, its radial center is also the center of the square) and overbearing in its symbolism.
Loma Prieta and First Vision break from bilateral symmetry in ways that invite close inspection. "Loma" refers to a 1989 San Francisco area earthquake; indeed much of the surface has a firey or charred appearance. The "First Vision" was a divine revelation by LDS church founder Joseph Smith. The painting suggests an open archway leading to an infinite territory. Two smaller square Godseye pieces contain a series of fortress-like nested squares; in each, the bilateral symmetry is reversed. The blue and white paintings are nearly identical. Number one (subtitled Walk Away) has "bridges" connecting the squares, while in number two (Run and Hide) these have been destroyed. Along with two other nested square pieces, these are reminiscent of abstractionist Josef Albers' Homage to a Square series.
Three small paper on paper pieces from 1998 suggest the origins of Twitchell's approach. Untitled (Seagull and Crickets) numbers one and two illustate a Mormon tale in which the gulls devour the insects, saving valuable crops. Radially symmetric, their simple forms and restrained white on blue-gray color link Twitchell to folk-art. In contrast, the garish, wallpaper-like Learning From Las Vegas (from the Suburban Quilt Blocks series) is reminiscent of Andy Warhol. The title is taken from a 1972 book by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, a publication which advocated the incorporation of pop influences into serious architecture.
Twitchell's work plays into any number of contemporary artworld trends, among them architectural fantasy, a desire for overall complexity of form, and a playful and perhaps ambivalent attitude towards both popular culture and the heritage of modern art. The artist stands out amongst his peers for the narrative imagination and formal rigor he applies towards these goals.