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Katy Stone @ Johansson Projects, Oakland

Katy Stone: (Detail) Little Universe

Katy Stone: (Detail) Little Universe

You can take issue with Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacra – the idea that contemporary life simulates “authentic” experience – but simulations, as any moviegoer will attest, are often highly engaging.  That’s definitely the case with “Tickling Thicket,” a provocative exhibit by Katy Stone and Yvette Molina, two painters with very different ideas about representing nature. 

 Stone brushes and pours acrylic paint on to clear sheets of Duralar which she cuts and reassembles into structures that recall terrestrial and aquatic plant life seen through a scrim of mutating cells.  These works appear in two formats: framed behind glass, like taxidermied specimens, and in complex, multi-layered installations that flow across walls in amoeba-like shapes over which floral forms are superimposed – a kind of sculptural version of cell animation minus the storyline.

Stone, who lives and works in Seattle, doesn’t spend much time in nature.  But she almost certainly fantasizes about it.  She works quickly and spontaneously, painting hundreds of forms a day in a monochromatic palette of white, amber and black.  These she assembles in improvised installations, creating the convincing illusion that they somehow sprouted organically.  “Little Universe (Terra),” an L-shaped installation, spans 21 linear feet with starburst forms pinned to the wall at a various angles to cast shadows through transparent media.  It’s a macroscopic view of a microscopic phenomenon.  “Untitled (Thicket Heap)” is the exact opposite: a floor-to-ceiling construction in a tiny room that delivers what feels like an ocean-floor view of a kelp bed – a head-spinning tangle of limbs, vines, roots, stalks and tendrils interspersed with flora of indeterminate species.  The range of associative possibilities seems almost endless.

Yvette Molina: Lichen Whorl

Yvette Molina: Lichen Whorl

 In contrast, Molina’s oil-on-aluminum paintings are cool, Asian-influenced landscapes whose loose lines and Symbolist lighting effects bypass the obvious clichés of the genre while simultaneously appearing to engage them.  While the Oakland painter’s large-scale panels are eye-grabbing, they ultimately resist intimacy; whereas her six paintings on 7-inch, convex aluminum disks exert a gyroscopic pull, providing a portal into a watery universe that seems, in pieces like “Lichen Whorl” and “Trembling Rot,” to expand, fractal-like, before your eyes. 

 It’s doubtful that either artist is flashing any irony here.  Yet the concept of the simulacra seems to be embedded, if only because the obvious artifice of their materials contrasts so sharply with the authenticity of the response they elicit.  In other words, they become credible destinations, places where you’d want to spend time.

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