REAP THE WHIRLWIND
By Megan Abrahams
ARTPULSE NO. 22, VOL 6, 2015
In her new exhibit of recent paintings, sculpture, film and video, Laura Krifka makes an unrestrained inquiry into human behavior, psychology, death, violence and sexuality without flinching. Among the range of media presented, the paintings dominate with their intensity, scale and drama. In them, gripping—and at times shocking—subject matter is conveyed with accomplished technical fluency. Neoclassical in style, Krifka’s work also seems to reflect some of the core principles of the 18th-and early 19th-century Neoclassicist painters, referring to classical principles as a standard for grasping contemporary morality.
At first look, the stunning impact of Krifka’s often disturbing, sometimes violent, subject matter momentarily eclipses the technical brilliance of the Work. Pulled inside the moment, the viewer is compelled to look despite, or because of, the disconcerting nature of certain themes the artist is apparently driven to explore. With the luster of oil on canvas, Krifka weaves mythological and historical references into her own allegorical world. Each painting is a scene portraying figures caught in some act. As in the work of F. Scott Hess, another contemporary California painter who creates theatrical and sometimes lurid dramatic scenes expressed through a classical vocabulary, the viewer is conscious of being a voyeur, a witness to a secret—sometimes involving romance, often murder or another form of transgression.
Digging past the initial fascination, the work resonates on other levels. It is impossible to overlook the inherent beauty of Krifka’s paintings. Her artistic process involves a series of decisions, momentous forks in the road to realizing a vision. In the course of Krifka’s decision-making, it’s evident she can rely on her own exquisite instincts about palette. Aura or mood, orchestrated through the use of color, infuses her Work, most notably in a piece like Violet Riot, (2014, oil on panel, 48 by 96 inches) with its pervasive violets. Also fluent in human anatomy, Krifka is not just convincing in conveying flesh, underlying muscle, sinew and bone, but adept at capturing emotion.
A familiarity With human anatomy does not translate to conformity or confining herself to prescribed conventions. She ignores customary gender boundaries, bending and adapting male and female roles. In Krifka’s realm, the murderer, predator or rapist may be a female. The male could be the victim. She also exercises a deliberate degree of gender ambiguity in some of her figures, manipulating the narrative thread and further building on the psychological component. A dark humor and double entendre also pervade some of her Work. In The Prick (2014, oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches), a figure with feminine features, except for the naked erect penis, holds a sewing needle.
The scenes are cinematic, laced with narrative, thick with dramatic tension. An ability to leverage the underlying story, perhaps cultivated from Krifka’s experience in filmmaking, lends an extraordinary quality of mise-en-scène to the canvas.
“Reap the Whirlwind” is one of the inaugural exhibits at the vast, new, light-filled CB1 Gallery space in the frontier warehouse arts district of downtown Los Angeles.