Merion Estes, Desolation Row, 2013, fabric collage and acrylic on fabric, 63.25″ x 79.5″
ART AND CAKE
Dispatches from the Front Lines, Merion Estes at CB1 Gallery
By Sydney Walters
December 28, 2017
In CB1 Gallery’s latest show, Dispatches From the Front Lines, artist Merion Estes weaves a sublime chorus of color, pattern and texture into a systematic outcry against corporate gains at the cost of the environment.
Estes creates a visual symphony of senses by peeling back repeating layers of texture and emphasizing colored elements such as the glittering vibrato of gold in Yellow River. One of the best examples of bringing sound into a color field is her fabric collage, Drink Me. Three black music notes punctuate an otherwise still and quiet swamp. Small frogs are tucked behind red reeds and an alligator emerges from the shadowy depths. Yet the surface is covered by smoke. Smoke from the small flames erupting from the surface of the water. Non-organic shapes, which suggest pieces of trash, are silhouetted against the hazy surface. Plucked from Alice in Wonderland’s “drink me” bottle in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, Alice recalls, “If you drink much from a bottle marked, ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” Estes’ Drink Me is a reverberation on human abuse and over indulgence of this natural resource.
Other pieces continue projecting dramatic scenes of pollution, fires and chemicals disrupting animal habitats. In Desolation Row, elephants walk in a straight line, a death march, toward a blazing fire on the terrain. Skeletal angelfish meander underneath other fish belly up suspended in acrid green pollution in Bayou Blues. Painted in the style of futurist artist Umberto Boccioni, a smoking, polychromatic waterfall penetrates a clear blue river. Futurism’s fuel was the promise of industrialization. Chemical Falls is not only a rebuttal against industrialization destroying the environment, but it also does what WWI did to Futurism: it proves intent is not always a reflection of reality.
The stories Estes weaves are not only packed with tremendous relevance to environmental crisis, but also nod to pop culture and political happenings. In Black Star, a spider web reads as a complex astrological chart with planetary orbs as the nesting place for large spiders and black stars scattered throughout the web. Here, Estes reflects on David Bowie’s last album and global chart topper, Blackstar, and the obscured spiders imply the illness hidden from the public that resulted in Bowie’s death.
Another piece influenced by current revelations is a large fabric collage titled Pink Power. Here, Estes considers the Los Angeles Women’s March this past January. Delineated paper flower petals whose outlines are similar to breasts are sprinkled among an array of pink and green foliage. Five paper hands adorned with henna patterns guide this ornate torrent and the stunning pink overhaul mirrors the sea of pink from the pussy hats worn by so many LA marchers.
For Estes, Dispatches From the Front Lines are messages from war. She is burrowed in the trenches in the battle to save the environment. In synthesizing dreamlike utopias in jeopardy, her work is more than a narrative. It is an invitation for action.