By Jill Thayer, Ph.D., Contributing writer, book essay for Lauren Mendelssohn-Bass “On The Verge of Domestication,” ARTVOICES Art Books, Los Angeles, June 2017
“I form my oppositions in a way that tells a psychological story, feeling, thought, or idea. Juxtapositions… these strong, straight lines, as I often use circles, which is how I form an ambiguous story. ” — Lauren Mendelssohn-Bass
Taking a cue from the psychological drama of Film Noir, Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass weaves her own narrative through the painted word. Her emotional thrillers are stylistic and keen in plotlines that reveal the subtext of life. Her characters are staged in a series of montages, as form and gesture expose the mind’s inner turmoil of daily existence.
Lauren renders the figure in a voyeuristic dialogue that challenges the viewer in fallacy and truth. Her painted tableaux are honest and gritty. Begat from the tenets of Social Realism and Pop Art, the tone of her work is nostalgic of Finish Fetish coolness. The characters portray feelings that are poignant and raw, and postured in equivocation. Reality or fantasy… what is fiction or believed? Lauren aligns her subjects in a relational context that questions perception. This paradox of inquiry in language and innuendo are subtexts of her stories, seemingly innocent beyond reproach. Crimes and passion are at the fore of her repertoire, as a climatic moment stands still in time leaving questions unanswered in a tale that exists.
The compositions offer an intriguing dialog between the viewer and subject. Much like cinéma vérité, Lauren records the authenticity of real life situations, through her brushwork. Cinematic overtones are visual contexts for her scenes. “The drama, the boldness, that strong black and white… that Technicolor from the 40s or the 50s” are constructs of the her vision as she adds, “A lot of my work is a confluence of contradiction and juxtapositions, and how you put things together or on top of each other to tell a story, instead of just painting a story where it’s very clear what it is.” Lauren’s documentary approach captures the psychological interaction of deeper meanings implied.
The artist’s keen handling of the figure paints an elegant nod to earlier genres of photorealism and hyperrealism. In articulating the minutia of a high-resolution photograph, there is a deftness of her methodology as she approaches the honesty of her subject. Lauren’s figurative works echo the intimacies of the large-scale portraits of Dennis Hopper and Chuck Close. She cites the influence of Lucien Freud, being drawn into the work, and the effects of psychology in self-reflection. Lauren calls upon the viewer to see not only the mystique of the moment, but to take a closer look at his or her existence, the reflexive notion of one’s own reality.
The symbiotic relationship that women have with food is one theme Lauren explores. Well Balanced, 48”h x 36”w, Oil on canvas, shows a typical breakfast with a slice of cantaloupe, toast and a slab of butter, a beverage, and accoutrements. A nude torso frames the piece, as another woman with a contemplative gaze holds a cigarette and envisions herself on a telling scale. The meaning of food in our culture is glamorized while the subject ponders the consequence of overeating. That inner voice reminds us of our choice in a daily struggle of moderation or overindulgence.
Stainless, 40”h x 40”w, Oil on canvas, resembles a retro coffee ad with imagery and typography that lure the consumer into submission. One view looks down on a cup of rich, dark coffee with a bathing beauty reflected in its depths. A slender figure of a woman demurely sips from a cup as she holds the saucer with her other hand. She is statuesque positioned above the swimmer. Stainless steel coffee makers are shown at the ready with a luxuriously dressed woman resting diagonally on the lid. The headline reads, “Stainless,” an indestructible nature of the word implies strength. Yet, if liquid from of the coffeemaker is spilled, it will create a stain that creates a constant chore for the housewife to clean.
In Pick Your Poison, 20”h x 20”w, Oil on canvas, the scene implies the ambiguous normalcy of a relationship. A suited man, perhaps home after a long day’s work, reads the paper and relaxes with a smoke. His wife pours a cup of coffee that she prepares to serve. Her gaze towards the viewer implies a different story. This stereotypical role of a modern mid-century woman appeared many times in magazine advertisements reinforcing the image of the dutiful homemaker and successful husband. Is she happy in her domesticity or does she conspire to be set free? Her expression hints that something else may be in the coffee.
Lauren researches her references carefully, sorting through magazines, online images, and her own photographic archives to project just the right pose, expression, and nuance. Her figurative studies are the result of many sketches. Images are laid out in an array of options that become a collage of inspiration and eventually, evolve into a storyboard. The compilation is then transferred to the canvas in a loose drawing that she meticulously renders. Her medium of oil casts a velvety tone of contrast and sentiment from a bygone era.
Her current series looks at the meaning and symbolism of the fairy tale, and the heightened moment in the plotline that enraptures the viewer. She reflects, “We’re our own damsel in distress, but we’re our own prince charming as we could save ourselves too. We’re the innocent Little Red Riding Hood, but we are also the wolf.” Lauren chose the subject of fairy tales noting, “As humans, we have that good and that bad. Everyone is everything in the painting.”
Through the identity constructions created in her characters, Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass is forming her own voice. As past informs present in the progression of her work, the artist describes herself as a feminist, storyteller, and psychologist. But, as the inner voice of her storylines imply, she adds, “Just live your truth.” The intricate nuances of subtle emotion portrayed in these timeless characterizations cut to the core of how we see ourselves as well.
For more on the work of Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass, see: www.mendelsohnbassfineart.com
Lauren Mendelssohn-Bass “On The Verge of Domestication,” available through ARTVOICES Art Books: http://www.artvoicesartbooks.com
Article photos courtesy Jill Thayer, Ph.D.
Jill Thayer, Ph.D. is an artist, educator, art historian, and curatorial archivist. As an oral historian, she explores the narratives and socio-political contexts of people and their contributions to the cultural discourse. She received her doctorate in Cultural Studies/Museum Studies with emphases in contemporary art history, exhibition theory, design theory, and visual culture from Claremont Graduate University (2011) with transdisciplinary study in global strategy and trade at St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford, UK. Dr. Thayer is Associates Professor of Art History for Santa Monica College in Art Appreciation: Global Visual Culture; and Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria in Art History; and Associate Faculty for the MBA program at Post University Malcolm Baldrige School of Business, Waterbury, Connecticut. Her postdoctoral oral history series, “In Their Own Words: Oral Histories of CGU Art” (2012) features CGU professors emeritus and is included in Archives of American Art at The Smithsonian Institution. She produces a weekly podcast, “The Art of Life” for Voice of Paso Internet radio. Jill lives and works on the California Central Coast.