The first impression of an exhibition installation is always interesting to me. As I cast an eye about on entering “Memoir,” the current show of art by Nancy Lunsford at 440, the harmony, grace, and consistency of the pictures on the right hand wall (10-14 on the gallery’s list of works) greeted me cordially. A diamond grid runs throughout the set, lending them organizational coherence. These are the most recent products, dating over the last few years. The works displayed on the back wall and the left hand wall have a different effect. These take us to a less homogeneous range of expression. These pieces are from the artist’s archives, older pieces given fourth through different impulses, in different locales, different times yielding different psychological spaces, and the disparate range of media with which an artist may experiment over a large time span. They make of the current show a small retrospective.
Nancy Lunsford, 2011
Acrylic and pencil on linen
The theme throughout the exhibition is the memoir, the list of recollections and reflections, their synthesis and analysis, summing up a person’s life experience. To drive the point home, the exhibition includes a “conceptual piece” in the form of the artist’s own person, sitting, for the duration of the show, at a table in the middle of the space, literally writing her memoir. This writer is lucky to have made the acquaintance of the artist’s text and has found it lively, evocative of family dynamics, and rich in incident, emotional color and humor. The same is true of the art work on display.
Among the tender glimpses into the artist’s past is Diptych, 1989. This piece is not so much the artwork, as the documentation of the artist’s true creation: her twin children. In this work we see a quick rendition, cursory and fluid, of the twins. They lie, symmetrically, side by side, viewed from above, on a central rectangle that might be the little mattress they share. This overlaps two peaked arches, like two gothic doors. Within these arched “entrances,” the artist has pasted fragments of various journal entries from the period, covering them completely. These may give us hints about the artist’s experience of motherhood and the balance she sought in the different areas of her life.
Whereas, for most of us, such journal entries may remain obscure as to their meaning, fragmentary as they are, on the evening of the opening, a long time friend and colleague of Ms. Lunsford’s saw his name on two bits of paper included in Preface, Tumbling Blocks series, 2010. He was elated to see the references. He knew what the artist was talking about. The recognition informs our own sense of meaning; it’s good to know that someone outside the artist’s own head received a given message, even a part of one, from the writing.
A Veil So Fine, 1990, depicts a nude female body with red writing seen above it, in bold strokes. This is not depicted writing, words placed somewhere on a surface of the figure’s setting; it is writing on the canvas. The treatment of the body is not probing, yet the slick, abbreviated strokes representing it convey oodles of sensuality, passion, sexiness and vigor. The writing states: “Sister brother mother father husband lover child/You are the woven fabric of them all. A veil so fine I only feel it when I breathe.” The artist, self-deprecatingly, dismissed the bit of writing as “romantic bull----.” However, true literal meaning aside, the expression seems, to me, to come from a place of uninhibited exultation reached at a given moment. Moreover, through the sensual paint and presence of the female body, the exposure of which, we may assume, represents an emotion with which the artist identifies, we sense an intimacy and honesty.
Ms. Lunsford is an artist who has taken on many challenges throughout her career, including ceramics and sculpture, several examples of which are here in evidence. Yet, within each different mode the artist’s imagination, skill and talent remain in constant evidence. Her work has delighted me previously, and, given the present indications, continues to hold my interest. I invite the reader to take a look, to see what delights he or she may discover. The show runs until June 26, 2011.
As is the practice at 440, delightful works by other gallery members grace the walls in the partitioned area, in the rear of the space. Those also are worth the visit. They remind us that this gallery has much variety and aesthetic richness.