What drives an artist can be extremely varied. From domestic life to politics, or the study of shape, color and light, the impulse to create can take on many different forms. It can be difficult to get a real sense of what an artist is thinking without seeing a complete body of work, or at least several years' worth, presented all at the same time.
One of the wonderful things about the Akron Art Museum is that it often offers you the opportunity to see the evolution of an artist whom you might not otherwise have the opportunity to get to know. "Mernet Larsen: The Ordinary, Reoriented" is a focused and intimate display of the artist's work from 2011-2018.
At first glance, the work looks like something that has been enhanced or influenced by technology. However, once you start to look at it and then learn who the artist is, you realize the opposite is happening.
Larsen is a self-professed Luddite who has “never played a computer game” in her life. Her compositions portray angular people performing ordinary activities — sitting around a table, reading in bed or attending a meeting. Larsen often uses reverse perspective, in which figures that are farthest away are larger than those in the foreground.
The angular shapes of the people and rooms they are in make the compositions feel somehow familiar. The lines and the use of warped, skewed or reversed perspective work along an axis not unlike what you might see in an architectural rendering done through a computer program, and that is in part some of the basis for the works' initial familiarity.
What's exciting about Larsen’s art is that as you look and seek to understand it, you begin to realize how she is sharing her unique voice. Inspired by a life with 35 years in academia, Larsen has had the opportunity to know many of the situations she paints very well.
"Seminar" is a 2011 acrylic that shows a group of people sitting at a table all looking in the same direction. The piece is done with reverse perspective, and this “twist” on reality makes you feel like you’re looking from inside the painting, or perhaps that you should somehow move to get a better sense of the angle, when all this will do is confound you even further. It’s a dynamic painting that makes a sterile academic room or environment look, while not more inviting, certainly more interesting.
"Reading in Bed" is an acrylic and mixed media on canvas of a couple lying on a bed. One person's head is at the foot of the bed, the other (the reader) is sitting up against the headboard. The perspective is warped and reversed here too. The closest elements look small and the farthest elements are painted at a much larger scale. The bed itself appears to get smaller the closer it gets to you.
The reader is holding a copy of "War and Peace" and giving a sidelong glance to the other person in the bed. Like so many of Larsen's works there's more at play than what you see at first glance, and her subtle humor adds a level of meaning and complexity.
"Cup Tricks" portrays four people sitting around a table playing some type of game with a ball or balls and cups. Two subjects have been inverted and the other two who sit opposite them have not. The table has been painted with its corner facing out so the entire composition takes on more of a diamond shape. This piece has the tendency to confuse your eye and appears to almost flip and twist as you look at it.
"Mernet Larsen: The Ordinary, Reoriented" offers a chance to delve deep into how and why an artist does the research she or he does. Larsen's statement says she is working “to offer a new perspective unto life.” Certainly this exhibit offers a look at an artist who is doing contemplative and deeply investigative work, and gives us a chance to better know a unique voice.
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