Arts & Theater

Art review: ‘Her Way’ features women artists pushing their art in new directions

Ellen Van Fleet’s “Forest of Smoke” hits close to home in Sacramento.
Ellen Van Fleet’s “Forest of Smoke” hits close to home in Sacramento.

JayJay brings together four women artists in “Her Way,” an exhibition of works by Ellen Van Fleet, Kerry Cottle, Jennifer Lugris, and Katherine Warriner.

Van Fleet — who has shown at prestigious institutions, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City, and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston — is a seasoned veteran who is well known both locally and nationally. Cottle, a graduate of Sacramento State, shows oil paintings on canvas. Lugris, a recent MFA recipient from UC-Santa Barbara, shows painting/collages. Warriner, who offers two series of well-executed prints, has shown extensively in the Bay Area.

Cottle, Lugris and Warriner are younger artists being introduced to Sacramento audiences by JayJay in what curator Jeff Mayrey describes as a multigenerational show of women artists who are pushing their chosen media in new directions.

Built and reconstructed from torn paper, Van Fleet’s intuitive watercolor collages inspired by plant and animal life, Australian aboriginal art and classical modernism are eccentric works that take us on unpredictable journeys into mysterious territory.

Forest of Smoke” is both topical and timeless, suggesting the recent wildfires in Paradise and the noxious smoke that drifted into the central valley, burning eyes and throats. In it, blue-black smoke tornadoes swirl around patches of blue sky and greenery surrounding a delicate, almost prehistoric, fern-like plant with a fragile blue tendril that reaches up for air. In places, the surface of the work is cut and folded back to open on vibrant abstractions that suggest another world, an alternate reality that exists on a cellular level.

“Like a Trout Moving Through Water” is a long, horizontal composition that suggests the movement of fish under the surface of a stream. Here, the cut and folded areas suggest blocky fishermen standing on a boulder, while the opened areas reveal a tic-tac-toe pattern with a red circle that made me think of Japanese banners.

In contrast to its subtle poetry, “Goat Rodeo #3” is a bold, eye-popping work. Cut loose from the conventions of watercolor and collage, it’s complex three-dimensional image in which leaf-like shapes peel away to reveal dazzling red and blue areas that suggest a kind of molecular action called Brownian Movement as well as aboriginal “dreamtime” paintings.

“Elephant Dust” gives us what might be exploding flowers or fireworks against a background of thick blood-colored stripes. Tongue-like blue and green flaps open to reveal colorful dancing dots and diagonal slashes that alternately suggest wounds or the flight paths of speeding birds.

Cottle’s work turns recurring shapes and marks into complex mosaic-like patterns that intertwine, overlap, and interact. They feature precise and symmetrical patterns ranging from tiny meticulous grids that have a textural effect to arching linear and circular shapes that call up associations with Art Deco, jukeboxes, and pinball machines. “Neon Vision,” “Particulate Matter,” and “The Invisible It” are obsessive, labor intensive works that that impress us with their large size and intricate details. “Reticulations #1,#2.and#3” are small, less-compelling paintings in the same vein that feel more like textiles than paintings.

Lugris gives us multi-panel paintings that fracture images into large, medium, and small canvases that are hung so that they seem like fragments of a single image blown apart. “La Reina,” a self-portrait, and “El Rey,” a portrait of her husband, have a pop art sensibility and are separated, flattened and textured so they set up a push-pull approach to color similar to that propounded by Hans Hoffman, compositions that remind one of works by Romaare Bearden and R. B. Kitaj, and narrative elements that while abstracted remind one of Frida Kahlo’s symbolic self portraits. Lugris describes her self portrait as “an ill-fitting puzzle that makes up who she is.”

Katherine Warriner’s embossed prints with subtle radiant color draw on patterns and shapes found in nature. “Phyllotaxis #4, #5 and #6” are lovely works that suggest whirlpools, swirling galaxies, and prayer prayer wheels. Like mandalas, they are images of the inner self that focus our thoughts on our inner spirituality. “Radial Geometry #6, #17, and #9” also draw on nature — cobwebs, meandering streams, and flowers — but employ more saturated color and resemble tie-dyed textiles. She describes her works as “ecosystems” based on ideas about growth, balance, and movement ... that reach beyond the literal to a meditative internal place.”

This article was updated at 5:53 a.m. on Dec. 5 to correct the spelling of Jennifer Lugris’ name.

If you go

What: Her Way: Four Women Artists

Where: JayJay, 5524 Elvas Avenue

When: Through Dec. 22. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Cost: Free.

Info: (916) 453-2999