Wardell Milan's Clough-Hanson exhibition, "Landscape! Romance, Rottenness," is a mesmerizing mix of figure and landscape, mystery and mayhem, ripeness and rot. In a series of mixed-media collages titled "Heroine: Nude and Landscape," evocative and complex women stare at us with large, limpid eyes and secrets to share. The heads and long petals of purple sunflowers become Heroine #4's dark nipples and the translucent sleeves of a designer blouse that she has accented with skintight lizard-green gloves. Sultry and self-assured, she looks straight at the viewer as she touches the edge of her pubis, though not in shame or an attempt to cover herself. This is the gesture of a woman who feels empowered by sexual energy.
Roses sprout from the back and womb of Heroine #1. Her disproportionately short legs and slightly gangly body accentuate her youth. Small hands are cupped just beneath her chin in a gesture of surprise and an attempt to shield herself. In this compelling portrait of innocence, instinct, and sexual awakening, a third arm and hand (larger and more crudely drawn) reaches under the long mane of hair that covers the young woman's breasts.
Heroine #5 is neither coiffed nor manicured. Part-woman and part-mother earth, her long strands of hair are tangled. Her torso morphs into a dense mix of vegetation and earth that looks like a compost heap, both fetid and fertile. The rest of her body is over-lit and stark-white. With the faintest of diagrams and drawings, Milan delicately traces part of her skeleton and reproductive system.
No detached oglings, no casual couplings are possible with Milan's unnerving, iconic females. They draw us into the web of life, where we glimpse the part each of us must play in nature's cycles of pubescence, full flowering, regeneration, and rot.
Milan's digital C-prints of miniature stage sets — constructed from Pop art, family photographs, and myriad other sources — also teem with life and decay. Near the center of the C-print Christopher Columbus' Discovery of the New World, Columbus wears what looks like an aluminum-foil spacesuit. He stands on top of an equally inept-looking aluminum-foil spaceship that bears the red cross that also appeared on the flags of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Across the top of the C-print, a jet liner flies past ancient ruins toward a large stone edifice toppled by natural disaster, modern warfare, Armageddon. African tribesmen stand next to slave traders, slaves, odalisques, and eunuchs. Near the bottom of the work, African-American teenagers, circa the '60s, sit beside their "wheels" and boom boxes. Far left, a young woman with her hair in curlers strolls with a friend across the rubble of a bombed-out city — or perhaps, the rubble of time.
Instead of discrete timelines, concise textbook accounts of history, or simplistic statements regarding the meaning of life (or progress or manifest destiny), in Milan's crowded, chaotic C-prints you'll find something richer, more entangled, and real.
Through December 8th
It's a pleasure to watch an artist grow. During the last four years, Matthew Hasty has evolved from a good, slightly garish landscape painter to an artist whose panoramas of the Delta in his L Ross exhibition, "Gravity," are some of the most spectacular and subtly nuanced landscapes seen this year. In Crepuscular Rays and Cloudburst, rays of light spread across the entire surface of these 4-by-5-foot paintings. As the rays pass through cloudbanks and open sky, their colors change from silver to endlessly gradated shades of ochre, amber, and white-gold. The moist earth that borders the bottom of these works is also softly glowing.
In another subtly stunning landscape, Moonlit Cottonfield, thousands of tiny off-white puffs create hundreds of rows of cotton. Like lines of perspective, the rows narrow near the horizon, converging in a pool of soft light cast by a full moon. Hasty's mix of mist and moonlight nearly obscures the slender pines that stand like ghostly sentinels at the edge of a field.
Hasty's dark, effervescent, but still compelling, River Sunset does not blaze with saturate color. Instead, clouds scatter across a lavender-gray sky like embers. The sky's reflection in the muddy Mississippi turns water into burgundy wine. Just beneath the setting sun, a slender shaft of light streaks across the river. Hasty glazes the earth with as much care as his sunsets and the surfaces of water. You'll find burnt sienna and gold-green tints in the fertile Delta riverbank at the bottom of the painting.
Hasty hopes this body of work will "elicit an emotional response and have a soothing effect on viewers that invites contemplation." Hasty's luminous landscapes succeed in this and much more. If we look, really look — this increasingly accomplished artist reminds us — each bend in a river, each sunset, each patch of umber earth is a masterwork of texture, color, composition, and light.
Through November 30th