Abstractions in Balance is imaginative, sophisticated and poetic. The new collections presented by Lorna E. Smith and Harley Kirschner, running this month at the Range Café in Bernalillo, both draw inspiration from the natural world, but contain nuanced differences. Kirschner says “at the core of both bodies of work is a Zen simplicity.”
Smith's pieces are full of clean lines, ancient Celtic symbolism and LED lights that illuminate the quantum world. Kirschner creates whimsical feelings of places he likes with layers trash, acrylic paint and his rock collection.
Kirschner and Smith teamed up after working together as educators at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, teaching children ages 6 to 10 with hands-on projects. When they aren't covered in Modge Podge and finger paint, they individually pursue dedicated careers as visual artists.
Combining her Irish heritage with a background in industrial screen-printing and contemporary work, Smith says one of her biggest goals is integrating tradition and modernity. “Celtic symbols aren't dead,” says Smith. “Half of America has it tattooed on their biceps.”
She discovered through relatives abroad that her Irish ancestry originates from a class of weavers. In search of her “graphic heritage,” she embarked on a self-described holy grail mission to trace the origins of Celtic imagery and myths and their significance to her culture.
She found that the symbols often refer to sacred geometry and Christian iconography. For instance, Smith says, many use the golden ratio or depict fractals in nature, such as the molecular patterns of water in whirlpools. The abstractions of nature captured her interest and she began to reflect these themes in her pieces.
“I love thinking myself into a pit and finding my way out,” says Smith. Her paintings are full of motion and colorful psychedelic shapes, such as the entrancing sensual swirls of “Green Mirror.” Still, her thoughtful consideration of the cosmic big picture persists, as seen in the harmoniously composed, two-dimensional “Venus and Earth Dance/Orbit” and the intricate rendering of traditional designs in “Labyrinth of the Eight Circled Cross.”
“I love thinking myself into a pit and finding my way out.”
Lorna E. Smith
Unrestricted in her process, her ideas also find a home in experimental pieces such as the three-dimensional light box “Water Net,” which pulses like flowing water. Standing before it is like watching a river shimmer by.
Graceful and unassuming, Smith's repertoire provides a glimpse into the unspoken undercurrent that connects the past and present in nature. There is a sense of infinity and dynamic energy that quietly enlivens the pieces from somewhere within.
Kirschner's creations, on the other hand, literally emerge from the canvas. An avid fan of art nouveau collages by Gustav Klimt and van Gogh's roughly textured impressionism, Kirschner says he also incorporates the styles that he uses in his school lessons, such as German abstract impressionist Wassily Kandinsky. Like Smith, Kirschner finds roots in his family heritage. “My mom is an artist, and my dad is a great storyteller,” he says.
In fact, many of the collages posses a rustic, storybook quality. “Lady of the Lake” and “Summer of Love” are darkly iridescent and comfortably melancholy. They transmit feelings of tranquil intensity with a generous sprinkling of whimsy.
You'll find paper cranes trying to migrate out of plein air paintings made of real twigs and leaves, delicate details with fancy beads, and lots of unidentifiable objects transformed into quixotic dreams. “I'm very often inspired to paint by senses other than my eyes,” says Kirschner. “I'll close my eyes and see if it matches up the picture in my head of what I want the painting to look like or feel like.”
A self-taught artist, he describes acrylic materials as having a strong will. In the conversation between his intentions and the behavior of the media, he says, his pieces take on a life on their own. It reminds him of moments he has in teaching. “A student will tell me that the paint wouldn't do what they wanted, so they just see where it takes them,” he says. “And I'm like, Great! Now you're making art!”
Smith and Kirschner will be at the gallery every Friday night from 6 to 10 p.m. this month for a series of “mini openings,” and encouraging people to stop by and hang out with them.