Shades of Gray

By Stacy Davies

Posted August 18, 2011 in Arts & Culture

Debuting the work of young artist can be a tricky road for any art gallery. Often times, the focus on youth and trying to snag an up-and-comer can color aesthetic decisions, and I’ve seen many an established artist overlooked merely because they’ve actually been putting in decades of time to perfect their craft. Once in a while, however, a newbie is worth the risk—and the taking up of space. Bunny Gunner owners Susie and Juan Thorp have been framing Scripps college grad Leia Steingart’s work for some time, and finally felt she deserved her own show. I agree.

Steingart’s artist statement talks a lot about her journey, thus far, through life. She’s in her early 20s, a time most of us remember as fraught with identity crises, confusion over which roads to take, and a future that still seemed hazy and mysterious. When we went through that stage, of course, society was different, the economy was different, and any bleakness we felt probably stemmed more from our own emotional chaos that was trying to form into solid matter. Steingart and her peers live in one of the most turbulent times in history—there are no longer any catch nets, not even for our government, and technology is so invasive and addicting that few twentysomethings seem to do anything other than fondle their phones, pads, pods or Wii controls. So, it’s heartening to see a few of them—and there are more than that—explore expression outside of a Twitter feed.

Steingart makes abstract reference to some of these things in her artist statement, poignantly revealing that the title of her show, and the work itself, comes from the emergence from a simpler, black and white childhood into a world of gray where nothing is as defined as it once was; there are a mess of emotions and fears that accompany that emergence and they tend to engulf and then evaporate, only to be replaced by new responses of a similar sort, and for Steingart they are all gray.

Her work in this show falls into two categories, faces and flowers, yet they are linked by a solid artistic style in which heavy brush strokes of black, white and gray create ghostly contours, highlights and shadows. The faces are akin to zombies, or some other tormented soul, and the flowers are the species that would be plucked by such gothic creatures, void of any scent or hue with which to seduce you. The backgrounds on the figures and flora, on the other hand, are a single, solid color—orange, green, blue—an effective juxtaposition of perception of the disillusioned subject and what the world might actually be reflecting back. In fact, the eyes of the faces are pupil-less, just white orbs that detect little more than their own inner struggle. Logically, they would see the world through that filter, and perhaps this is why the flowers, usually believed to reflect the beauty and promise of nature, serve only as projections of angst.

Ironically, the flowers are still beautiful, even in monochromatic tones, and this is a testament to the idea that no matter how we choose to see a thing, that thing always remains what it is and true to itself. Perhaps this is one of the lessons Steingart is learning, or will soon learn, but her talent is clear, even if her journey is not.

Leia Steingart’s “Gray Matter” at Bunny Gunner, 266 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 868-2808; Open Tues–Sat, 10AM–7PM. Closing reception Aug. 27


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