ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pedal-to-the-metal pattern painter Laura Wacha backs off the throttle a bit in her “Dog and Pony Show” of new paintings and sculpture at Matrix Fine Art.
Though she still shares a distant kinship with “pattern and decoration” artists from the 1970s like Robert Kushner and Valerie Jaudon and works like “The Reader” by Edouard Vuillard from 1896, Wacha is opening her compositions to allow more visual breathing room than the aforementioned painters.
Her pop-surrealist style, inspired by cartoon characters, also separates her work from the more formal 1970s pattern and decoration movement. Jim Nutt and other members of Chicago’s “Hairy Who” during the 1960s and 1970s are more closely aligned with Wacha’s take-no-prisoners approach to rendering the human, plant and animal figures in her work.
Clarity of form is a hallmark of Wacha’s paintings that has always drawn my eye to her efforts. She is a skilled draftsman and colorist who rejoices in the insanity of modern life. Her work is at once whimsical and sarcastic while maintaining a serious level of social criticism.
Wacha depicts emotional frustration, the trauma of dysfunctional relationships and quotidian activities in our wacky world. In works like “Flimflamilia” she lampoons a kinglike figure dancing with his female partner while trying to keep Hula Hoops spinning all over his body. A caution banner floats above the scene while a striped serpent interferes with the king’s efforts.
The complicated and complex composition in “Flimflamilia” requires time to be fully apprehended. None of her work is designed for passive or casual viewing.
This show represents my first encounter with Wacha’s sculpture, which in this series is based upon spherical figures, most of which feature arms and legs. In “The Webs We Weave” Wacha creates an eight-armed creature surrounded by electric wires sporting plugs that seem to be designed for the two outlet receptacle in the creature’s belly. The wires are connected to an eyeball complete with blood vessels and a camera lens.
Little Miss Muffet might have spilled more than her curds and whey when jumping off her tuffet to get away from this little spider. I almost dropped my can of diet soda.
Wacha pulls viewers back to elementary school in “Steamed,” a highly patterned depiction of an upset woman in a flowered dress with an empty purse being admonished by a blue bird. The woman’s pose emulates the position we all struck while singing “I’m a little tea pot…” in first grade.
Wacha underlines the recital connection by writing the opening lyrics in steam across the bottom of the picture.
In “The Mermaid’s Infarction” Wacha takes a serious look at female heart health issues that until recently have been understudied by the medical establishment. Her poignant composition includes a concerned octopus who is embracing the ailing mermaid. Both figures are surrounded by heart-shaped bubbles that symbolize their mutual affection as well as the dangerous situation for the mermaid.
In cartoon style and luscious color Wacha manages to convey anxiety and fear in a masterful fashion.
In the end Wacha is a master at social criticism while maintaining her highly developed skills as a painter and sculptor. She has high craft and a lot of class. Don’t miss it.
While you’re in the midst of Wacha’s high-energy and almost agoraphobic masterworks you may want to wander next door and view Ray Maseman’s far more peaceful and tranquil world titled “Heroes, Saints and Expeditions” at the New Grounds Print Workshop and Gallery. Maseman’s playful etchings have a childlike style that could illustrate storybooks.
Though he covers many of the subjects that Wacha lays claim to regarding modern life, Maseman offers restful open spaces in which his characters may frolic. He is an excellent draftsman and subtle colorist who developed his seductive style to communicate with our inner children. His quietly effective solo exhibition is well worth a lingering visit.