In her current exhibition at Artworks Gallery, Diane Nations takes inspiration from the works of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and particularly his visionary opus known as “The Red Book,” aka Liber Novus (Latin for New Book).
Jung created the book of drawings and hand-lettered texts between 1915 and 1930, but it wasn’t published or translated into English until 2009. Nations’ exhibited works are augmented by a display copy of the book that viewers can peruse, and a number of her wall-mounted pieces are accompanied by quotations from Jung.
The exhibition includes paintings of imaginary, dreamlike landscapes as well as collages and monoprints that build on Jung’s lifelong interest in mandala symbolism, which is common to all ancient cultures. Jung viewed mandalas as graphic representations of the self, wholeness or an individual’s spiritual center. They can take geometrical form — usually squares and/or circles — but can also consist of other vivid, symmetrically organized imagery.
Nations’ liveliest works are her collages, in which she combines spiritually related images from art history and mythology. Several of these works center on a sculptural representation of a frontally oriented, wide-eyed face that looks as if it might be an ancient Egyptian royal portrait.
The latter image appears at the top of her collage titled “Wake Up Humanity,” where it presides over a gathering of sepia-toned faces and figures representing races and cultures from throughout the world. In the lower part of this composition a pair of golden wings spreads out on both sides of a bronze circle containing an appropriated illustration of the Garden of Eden. An ascetic-looking, shirtless man sitting cross-legged at the bottom of the bronze circle presumably exemplifies the kind of spiritually awakened individual summoned in this collage’s title.
The same wide-eyed, Egyptian-looking face appears at the center of “Many Clues.” In this case it’s crowned by a pair of gold-leaf wings under a collaged, blue-hued image of a columned building that looks like a ruined Greek temple. A meditating Buddha sits cross-legged at the left center and is counterbalanced on the right by a slender, pale-skinned woman in a diaphanous blue gown, perhaps representing a Greek goddess. The lower portion of this collage is an amalgam of snakes, butterflies and moths, evoking themes of transformation and metamorphosis.
Mandalas also figure into several of Nations’ paintings, as do dreamlike landscapes and plant imagery, but the paintings tend to be more ethereal, as if their imagery is seen through veils of mist.
A snake coils around a tree with yellow-gold leaves and exposed roots in Nations’ small painting simply titled “Tree and Snake.” For viewers steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition this archetypal image will likely call to mind the story of Eve’s temptation in the book of Genesis. For Jung, though — and likewise for Nations — it carries a more universal symbolic meaning, as indicated by this comment from The Red Book: “The serpent has the weight of the earth in itself but also its changeability and germination from which everything that becomes emerges.”
The golden-leaved tree in the latter painting thematically connects it with a companion show by Lea Lackey-Zachmann, which shares the rear portion of Artworks with Nations’ exhibition. “Plant and Tree Transcriptions” brings together the latest of Lackey-Zachmann’s ongoing interpretations of plant imagery. In this case she has focused her efforts close to home, on the trees and garden plants in and near her own yard.
Her largest and most ambitious works here are three “sculptural paintings” on sheets of a plastic-like material called Dura-Lar, a combination of Mylar and Acetate. Although they’re displayed in conventional wooden frames, their thin, painted surfaces push outward as if they’re about to spill onto the floor. Inspired by trees identified in their titles, they combine colors, textural references and other visual cues specific to those trees.
Maintaining a sense of relative scale, Lackey-Zachmann’s smaller works — which make up the majority of her show — depict flowers and other smaller plants. Of special interest are five drawings from a series titled “Shadow Movers.”
Accompanying labels identify each species of flowering plant included in these densely crowded, intricately rendered, black-ink drawings on transparent sheets. Strips of wood across the top allow these drawings to be mounted over identically sized, background sheets painted in pastel colors, which serve as screens for the resultant shadows cast by the gallery lights.