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Margaret Lazzari
Zask Gallery, Rolling Hills Estates, California
Preview by Andy Brumer

Margaret Lazzari, "Hummingbirds," 2011, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40".

Continuing through January 5, 2014

After working for many years as a figurative, or figure based artist, Margaret Lazzari successfully tunes her sharp technical skills, intelligent eye and playful sensitivity to this group of abstract acrylic-on-canvas paintings. Lazzari is professor of art a the Roski School of Fine Arts at USC, where she not only teaches drawing and painting, but serves as the school’s Associate Dean of Faculty and its Director of Undergraduate Studies. She is also the co-author of "Exploring Art: A Global, Thematic Approach" (an award winning book now in its fourth printing), as well as "The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist." However, viewers attending this exhibition will find anything but academically staid and safe work. Rather, Lazzari manages to preserve a child-like freedom, abandon and joy in her work. She clearly leads her students by example.

All of the pieces in this show take their inspiration and starting point from the artist’s deep-seated memory of a place in nature, or from a recollection of a specific moment, replete with their various accents and shades of weather, seasonal light, and the point of view from which Lazzari experienced them. Some indeed have as their source what the artist refers to as her “lush backyard” in Manhattan Beach. While on the one hand these are emblems of private observation and/or contemplation, they also ooze with personal warmth.

 “Down Pour” is typical. Lazzari presents a dynamic and refreshing tone poem in luminous, iridescent and pastel-tinged tones. A massive column of vertical brush stokes in browns seems to cascade downward into a moist and receptive clay-like green puddle or jagged-edged pool. Interestingly, a small trapezoid shape is invitingly out of place at the bottom of the canvas - a Euclidean oddity in an otherwise poetic paradise of springtime freshness. Indeed Lazzari often tilts her work, or our perception of it, just a bit off kilter in this manner, as if to make in the words of poet Wallace Stevens, “the visible a little hard to see," or to offer a bit of a rugged homage to nature’s sublime strength.

"Copper Landscape" is a smoldering, brooding visual environment whose color is suggestive of the bark of redwood trees or of L.A.’s encircling parched mountain ranges in summer. Various shades of blues and greens meander abstractly as colorful negative spaces, but also suggestive of the sky behind the mountains and the streams that lace their interiors. "Rock Landscape," with its spiritual colors and fiercely free brush strokes, evokes not only geologic time via an allusion to earth’s sedimentary layers, but also the emotionally charged work of Post Impressionist, Symbolist, and Fauve artists, such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Derain, Redon, Gauguin and even Turner.

There’s a circular movement in all of the work here that leads the eye from openness into density then out into airiness again. It’s a pattern that transcends art to reveal deeper rhythms about life, the earth, and the universe beyond. That Lazzari presents this grand vision with such quiet humility speaks volumes about her confidence as an artist as well as the depth of her soul.

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