Michael Massenburg, Melinda R. Smith
Michael Massenburg’s paintings eddy about the boundaries of figuration and abstraction. The artist’s acrylic on paper and acrylic and collage on panel, earth-toned works, which seem to encircle first the one, and then, the other mode of painting, express an intuitive placement of color and shapes that both defy and resemble objective forms. The sienna to ocher cascade of paint that occupies the space just slightly left of center in Body Spirits (2018) might unmistakably be a female figure clad in diaphanous gown, yet it dissipates and blends into a jumble of yellows and greens, wispy shapes and drips. In places, he evokes the collage work of Romare Bearden—though not as deeply pictorial—even evincing a kind of spiritual dream, reminiscent of Bearden’s “Rituals of the Obeah” series (1984).
By contrast, Melinda R. Smith’s figuration conveys undisguised vulnerability. In Dolorosa (2018), a full frontal female nude, centered on the canvas, stands facing outward, possibly in front of a mirror. Smith’s simplified rendering heightens the ambiguity of the figure’s expression. Wide-eyed and pink-fleshed, red square-like shapes just above breasts and pelvis suggest a void and the source of the suffering alluded to in the title—yet resolution remains elusively out of reach. The red-ish void seen in this figure reappears in other works, creating a poetry of forms that unifies this and past series of paintings.
Michael Massenburg and Melinda R. Smith: “PAINTLUST,” May 11 – June 15, 2019, at Coagula Curatorial, 974 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, CA 90012.