The 18 allegorical seascapes in Laura Lasworth’s series “The Western Wall” represent the Seattle painter’s most consistent and disciplined body of work to date. Inspired by the dramatic views from her apartment window overlooking the Puget Sound, the 1-foot-square paintings (all oil on panel, 2009 or ’10) have in common a low horizon line and sumptuously painted skies, with storm clouds, dawns and sunsets rendered in pink, light blue or crepuscular red. The ocean below—sometimes solid as earth—bears meticulously rendered emblems and symbols that poignantly address themes of aging, death and spiritual transcendence.
The central panel of Remnant, three sparse works hung as a triptych, features a red shell rowed by a four-man crew beneath ominously gathering clouds. A simple allegory of determination in adversity, the image functions as a kind of koan, ripe for contemplation—a function fulfilled in other paintings by, for example, a Red Cross mercy ship, a shimmering willow and a tugboat spouting a trinity of water.
The works are infused with biblical symbolism. Under pink skies, in a dawn-lit, baby-blue ocean, a spindly, stark-white vine stretches armlike branches between two poles,in a crucifixion pose (Allegory of the Vine Branch & Dry Bones). The branches are fragmented and the paint built up in low relief to enhance a bonelike effect. In Psalm 80: Allegory of the Western Wall, two sections of the Jerusalem landmark are united by a bloodred vine as, above, the sun sets in a crimson, dust-filled sky.
Other paintings present delicately drawn ornamental motifs with personal or allegorical significance, at times enigmatic. In Corporal Acts I, one female figure passes a small blue baton to another—both identical self-portraits. In Illuminated Manuscript, a silhouetted white tree blooms disks in Necco-Wafer pastels. Ark of Tyre features a small sailboat with a diaphanous cloth draped over its mast as if in protection, perhaps alluding to the veiled Ark of the Covenant. Other panels are tributes to artists and writers who have inspired Lasworth, including small portraits of George Tooker and Teilhard de Chardin.
Lasworth has organized past exhibitions around specific themes, such as the works of Flannery O’Connor and The Song of Solomon (1997 and 2001). The intimate scale and visual uniformity of the paintings in “The Western Wall” enable the series to build in meaning, like an unfolding sequence of poetry. Lasworth is a rare lyrical voice in contemporary art, and uses her masterful control of form to convey rich content and genuine feeling.
Photo: Laura Lasworth: Psalm 80: Allegory of the Western Wall, 2010, oil on wood panel, 12 inches square; at Lora Schlesinger.