Once the world was a bigger place. Before globalism and TV, East was East and West was West and the people of any one culture were often very different from the next. Now those distinctions are increasingly lost. Yet even people of the most distinctly different cultures had one thing in common: They all had their own story or myth regarding their origins as a race, tribe or culture.
As you might suspect, such matters provide natural fodder for artists. Luz Maria Lopez's Storytelling paintings at LeMieux are based on the Mayan-influenced tales that her grandmother brought from their native Honduras, a land profoundly influenced by Mayan myths. For instance, a series of six painted wall panels depict the Mayan creation story of a god who cut off his fingers, which then fell to earth to became the first people -- actually the first poor people. An earlier try at making a man out of gold failed when the figure remained lifeless. But then the little finger people found it and breathed life into it, creating the first rich man -- but with the caveat that the rich could enter heaven only if sponsored by the poor. Which sounds a lot like the biblical challenge of getting a camel through the eye of a needle. And in fact much surviving Mayan culture is strongly influenced by Spanish Catholicism.
But in Solo Eva a heartbroken Eve, amid apples and serpents, cries over her and Adam's bad luck in Paradise. Where her tears fall to the ground the first Easter lily sprouts, attracting the first butterfly. Both are symbols of rebirth, yet here the myth seems more Mayan than Christian in tone. The Storyteller depicts Lopez's grandmother under a starry sky with Mayan glyphs and angels all around. She holds a scroll bearing the tales these paintings depict and, like the others, it is painted in Lopez's rather floridly illustration style with lots of brilliant colors. It's all very pretty, sometimes even gaudy, and yet that too is a curiously authentic touch.
Beauty and myth are no strangers to Ling Zhang's paintings at Sylvia Schmidt, and if Zhang's images can seem somewhat busy, they also reveal a worldly sophistication and whimsy that is often intriguing. Diaries of Last Summer-IV depicts a man with a woman who looks a lot like Zhang in a boat, actually a lotus leaf with oars. He lays back while she stands and throws away her mask as swans and fish frolic on the surface. The frame-like border -- her paintings tend to have elaborate borders -- contains depictions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas but the tone is dreamy, like those Chagall paintings of levitating lovers. Mask-XV, Bewildered, is a bit more enigmatic. This time the female figure is nude and facing a desert with a Tibetan Buddhist temple. Her head is a mask, cracked in two, and she holds an apple. A monk walks away, into the temple. The border depicts large lush leaves and a woman holding apples.
Mask-XI, The Dream of Yesterday is like a prequel or sequel. Here the woman appears nude in a street while holding a painting of a leaf. A nude female torso appears next to her, sans head but holding a mask as, under a tree laden with green apples, a Buddhist monk or lama walks down the picturesque Asian street. Melding influences of her native China and trips to Tibet with School of Paris flourishes, Zhang creates dreamy vistas where love, masks and role playing add up to a magic theater where anything is possible.
Sharing gallery space are some 20 prints by Bo Zhang, Ling's sister. Dealing with natural and man-made forms -- rocks, leaves, bottles -- that she finds charged with erotic or gender significance, Bo Zhang's prints are as muted and abstract as Ling's paintings are brightly figurative. Because their lines are delicate and the glass covering them is highly reflective, they can be hard to see, but their understated charms can be worth the effort. They also make for an interesting contrast with Ling's more flamboyant paintings, which can seem almost too pretty, yet which possess a saving subtlety, an exuberant grace that draws you in once you get past the shock of their unabashed sweetness.
- Endless possibilities: Ling Zhang's dreamy vistas, as seen in Mask-XI, The Dream of Yesterday, create a magic theater filled with love, masks and role playing.