Evoking Modernist abstractions refracted through surreal prisms, Lesley Vance’s 13 paintings in “A Zebra Races Counterclockwise” showcase her brilliance as a colorist and contriver of optical puzzles. In previous bodies of work, which comprised easel-sized paintings rarely larger than 31 inches, she abstracted still lifes into oblivion; yet the nonobjective shapes did retain vestigial references to some unknown thing or group thereof. Topping out at 80 inches, Vance’s new canvases place you inside her characteristically unnameable forms, which, by virtue of their expanded scale, have now become spaces that seem to envelop one standing before them.
Most of the enigmatically untitled paintings here depict looping cords and Mobius-esque bands that selectively cast subtle trompe l’oeil shadows against expanses of bold color. These configurations recall mathematically generated topological forms, suggesting larger phenomenological and metaphysical mysteries. Vance’s striking fusions of flatness, illusionism, and contrasting hues stealthily confound the viewer’s spatial impressions: Perspective vacillates; background and foreground play leapfrog; shallowness wavers into depth. In Untitled (LV 20.002) (all works cited, 2019-2020), an irregularly dentate slate green entity caught in a bubblegum-pink jump rope springs from a field of fire-engine red that screams, in turn, for pictorial dominance.
Other monumental compositions elicit the uncanny sensation of having imbibed a shrinking potion and fallen into the folds of some exotic botanical specimen, or of wandering through a hallucinatory world inside someone’s mind. Trying to disentangle the cutouts and trace the movement of the billowy ribbons spiraling around Untitled (LV 20.001) feels like descending into the inner workings of some sort of irrational machine equipped with contorted belts of color ready to suck you in and swallow you up. At closer range, optical awe dissolves into a more humanizing, tactile appeal as brushstrokes and slight variations in thickness testify to Vance’s hand across the linen.
Surface and manual gesture play more prominent roles in smaller paintings such as Untitled (LV 20.007), where variegated blue and yellow strips scraped away with a palette knife conjure fanciful visions of landscapes extruded like toothpaste into outer space. Pre-pandemic, this show had originally been scheduled for spring; but the experiential nature of Vance’s paintings seems particularly refreshing amid our current drought of human contact. The numbing effects of lockdown life are underscored and mollified by these tricky paintings, which tickle our sensations only to remind us of the slipperiness of the ground we walk on, the evanescence of the air we breathe.
Lesley Vance, “A Zebra Races Counterclockwise,” September 12-October 24, 2020 at David Kordansky Gallery, 5130 W. Edgewood Pl., Los Angeles, CA 90019