Lost Horizons #34, 2009, mixed media collage and acrylic on Arches paper, 44″ x 30″ sheet
Vibrant beauty in L.A. artist Merion Estes’ ‘Lost Horizons’
By Leah Ollman
January 15, 2017
Merion Estes’ collaged paintings on paper at CB1 invoke a tower of Babel in two dimensions: Within them, multiple visual languages are spoken at once.
In each of the dozen works from the “Lost Horizons” series (2007-2011), the L.A.-based Estes mobilizes an exuberance of means, toggling between representation, abstraction, pattern and ornament. One mode of address, one manner of engaging surface and space abuts another, all of them feeding into a vibrant, dissonant beauty.
Natural references abound here — mountains, moons and rivers, as well as birds, fish and butterflies — but there is no overt note of lamentation or protest over the forsaken pastoral. The works contain a lively friction that comes from unlike elements rubbing against one another, not from allusions to environmental threat. A large new collaged painting on canvas that renders visual the hot mess of climate change practically makes the temperature rise in the separate room where it hangs, but the “Lost Horizons” pieces are largely mild delights.
Cooling Trend, 2016, acrylic, spray paint and fabric collage on canvas, 86″ x 111″
Reproduction of the same Chinese landscape painting appears throughout the series — repeated, cut, stacked. In one tightly calibrated delicacy (“Lost Horizons #37”), the falling water in that printed/painted scene is echoed in irregular patches of decorative marbling, and those fluid striations are distilled further in the work’s hem, a fringe of dripped white paint on a dark band along the bottom edge. The whole reads as a meditation on flow, simultaneously translated into various graphic idioms.
Another, “#47,” is all resonance, buzz and rhyme. Here, the appropriated landscape is flipped and mirrored. A few lavender rice paper moons hover about, and across all runs a gorgeous grill of gold and black blurred streaks. Estes borrows and blends toward an aesthetic of richly textured, restless sensuality.