Tate, Hester and Lasner: All about life (and death)

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005

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Courtesy of Richard Lasner
‘‘Cupola del Brunelleschi: Firenze, Italy,” Richard Lasner’s take on Brunelleschi’s Dome, momentarily puts this well-known monument out of context, to relish its astounding beauty.

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Courtesy of Tim Tate
Tim Tate’s ‘‘Heart of St. Sebastian” focuses on the idea of targeting, and the strength needed to endure and overcome it.

In his third solo exhibit at Fraser Gallery in Bethesda, artist Tim Tate shows new work with exciting explorations of subject matter and materials. ‘‘Caged by History” is tightly themed with a marked unity of form and content. The show’s title refers to the myriad ways our histories direct our futures, the carrying of memory and the persistent effects of choices and events of the past.

Tate’s work also references the great unseen forces of nature that inexorably shape and direct our lives. The latter is especially well represented in works that include iron filings held captive by earth magnets. A fine example is the formally elegant ‘‘Sacred Cone of Magnetism,” with its echoing shapes and etched formulas for magnetic forces.

The brilliance of Tate’s work is in the way it fuses expression of ideas such as these with a deeply personal iconography about taking control of fate, healing and the will to live. ‘‘Positive Reliquaries, No. 1-3” are three blown-glass spheres topped with large red cast-glass crosses. They are also plus signs. Inside each is a cast glass nest, each with three spotted glass eggs. All around the exterior of the spheres the artist has etched a handwritten narrative relating his reaction to being diagnosed HIV-positive 20 years ago, and of the process this fact provoked. It was then that he decided to become an artist and then that the whole array of life affirming, healing imagery he uses began to come into focus.

Much of this imagery has a distinctly Catholic feeling. For example, the spheres topped by crosses unavoidably look like the orbs often held by Christ in medieval and renaissance art. The hot-glass flaming hearts – here in strong reds and blues, traditionally colors of divine and human love — are distinctly reminiscent of votive objects. Nevertheless, these works have a fascinating polyvalence, a sense of layered history that draws the viewer close and rewards attention with a rich variety of allusive meaning.

Tate has long used steel as a corollary to fragile glass in his work, which also frequently contains found objects. Recently, he has experimented with concrete as a sculptural medium with varied results. One of the most powerful works in this exhibit, however, is ‘‘Heart of St. Sebastian,” a concrete heart with a neck, like a vessel, topped with a dark red cast-glass flame. By shaking the concrete in the rubber mold, Tate caused a skin to separate from the heart form into which he has cut a large plus sign — an equal armed cross. In the neck is a tiny biohazard symbol. The work explores a number of iconographies including an identification with St. Sebastian, martyred by arrows, and the sense of being targeted as a biohazard when one is HIV-positive. A consciousness of death produces no pathos here, rather life-affirming strength, hard and resistant as the Sacrete Concrete mix with which the work is made.

Francie Hester’s collaborative installation ‘‘Articulation,” in memoriam for Diane Granat Yalowitz at Pyramid Atlantic’s Kunst Vault in Silver Spring, is similarly affirmative. A journalist for nearly 30 years, at her death at 49 in 2004, Granat was a senior editor and writer at Washingtonian Magazine, covering immigration, medicine and counseling. Over the past year, under Hester’s direction, people who knew Granat gathered to wrap about 20,000 paper clips with bits from her publications. The clips were linked to make strings that are used as three large curved curtain forms in the installation. These allude to a type of African marriage basket connoting the family. When moved, the strings sound like rain. This perhaps gave rise to the addition of the accompanying music by percussionist Luis Garay, sung without words, according to the mystical Chassidic tradition of ‘‘ningun” by Joan Phalen. Possibly the most compelling element is the Lisa Hill’s contribution: a concrete digital fountain that documents the process of wrapping the paper clips. As the artist notes, ‘‘words surfaced, then disappeared, then resurfaced.” On a pale aqua screen, words do just that, in a mesmerizing realization of the experience. As seen in many examples of older art, the biblical idea of water, rain or fountain as a metaphor of eternal life emerges as a fundamental theme here — water carrying the words that carry memory.

At Creative Partners in Bethesda, Richard Lasner’s ‘‘Italia Misteriosa,” new photos of Italy, connote a similar approach. Each lusciously printed large-sized image seems aimed at confirming the life principle in nature, communicating the artist’s passion for its transformative beauty. These strongly composed works have an unusually keen sensibility to variations of light and color. Lasner continues to work with the Iris print technique, transforming his 35mm photos of landscape and architecture into images resembling watercolors. The technique, which sprays archival watercolor dyes onto heavy rag paper, results in heavily saturated surfaces, the color layered and apparently in very slight relief. Yet, far from appearing flattened, the process emphasizes the photographs’ original depth of field, creating a sense of deep, luminous, pictorial space.

Fall is a special time in Montforte d’Alba, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where dense white fog can fill a valley in minutes, or provide a morning cover over the hilly vineyards that produce Barolo wines. ‘‘Sospeso nella nebbia,” a castle rising above the fog as though suspended in mid-air, or ‘‘Bruma mattutina,” with its almost Poussinesque planar composition, are memorable images. My favorite is a slice of Brunelleschi’s Dome of Florence Cathedral against a perfectly lit blue sky, looking like something one has never seen before.

For details, please see the Visual Art section of the Arts Calendar that begins below.