Artwork by Myrella Moses and Eric MondriaanJust in case we made it through the 1980s blissfully unaware that sex equals death, Myrella Moses and Eric Mondriaan, have ponied up "The Jequirity Suite" at Saddleback College's Art Gallery.
Jequirities, aside from being a pleasure to pronounce, are small red berries from India that are extremely poisonous (one well-chewed berry will kill an adult human) and said to have aphrodisiac properties. Doesn't everything? Except cheese? Okay, sometimes cheese does, too.
[Ed. question: How can something you eat have aphrodisiac properties and kill you? I don't know. They also use it as an herbal remedy in the Amazon, rubbing crushed granules on the body. It makes you almost die, but then your eye pustules go away.]
One blood-colored Jequirity holds court from under glass at the front of the bright-white gallery. The small seeds are depicted nowhere else, but they echo strongly throughout the works. It's a duality we've been conditioned to find irresistible, from Freud's notion of Eros and Thanatos to Tristan und Iseult, Romeo and Juliet and this week's West Wing. Danger and despair are just so damn hot!
Moses and Mondriaan have installed a show that some will despise for its boudoir flounciness and reliance on realist narrative; others will dig it 'cause it's pretty. (In fact, the overwhelming whiteness of it can be positively sugary.) For my part, I've never seen a show that stuck so well to its stated theme and vision, exploring each facet while maintaining a cohesion that never feels assembly-line. There are no rambling, frenetic digressions, no linguistic gymnastics to stretch something irrelevant to make it fit.
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There are nine pieces in the suite, each a combination of Moses' sensuous, rumpled linens molded atop Mondriaan's painted canvases. The paintings range from a cracked desert highway to a dangerous whirlpool, from gloomy ocean skies to foreboding trees, from the deserted aftermath of a lovers' bed to the deserted arches of an Italian cathedral. There isn't a figure anywhere in the gallery, just empty vistas. Jutting out from each are classically draped linens and lacy pillows that look soft and girly but are in fact as hard as Todd Spitzer's jaw. They're a celestial, shroudlike white that's both virginal and seductive. In fact, the beds are so monolithically pure they're crying out for the relief of a great red menstrual stain.
La Petit Mort (after Fragonard) is a velvety bedscape in crimson and sunshine yellow, like Fragonard's The Bolt. It's beautifully painted but, despite its presentation of a very similar bed, doesn't remind me all that much of Fragonard's rococo fripperies, being undergilded and wholly without cherubs. The Bolt—without impassioned lovers on the threshold of getting it on—is a lonely place to be. Solitaire is a square of gloomy, stormy sea painted atop an uncharacteristically flat white space (there are just a few creases, like a badly frosted cupcake). Embedded in and covered with the slathered white paint are a small deck of cards or dog tags (one can't really tell) and an almost invisible cork. Whether the cork is for lonely drinking bouts or a ship in a bottle—or it just looked cool impastoed on there—is anyone's guess. Wishing Well is equally brittle. It's no charming Kinkade Painting of Light™, with ivied, trellised gazebos and Snow White chirping along with blue birds; it's a whirlpool that will suck you down to a merciless undertow. Topped with yet another bed, it shows just how dangerous and deep dreams can be, but of all the paintings in the show, it's the least-realized. Usually, the paintings and their coverlets feel like one seamless work, even though the materials and styles are so disparate and both artists work independently. With this one, the two don't gel; the bedding and the eddy are at raw, wrong angles. But for anyone who has ever dreamed of drowning, it's a picture that sucks you in.
Morpheus' call is a strong one, and it's answered here. These beds hold dreams, and dreams of everlasting sleep are too alluring for some to deny. There's a lust for drowning, for mirage, for decaying loneliness. There's a prettiness to the thought of escaping everything for twilight shadows.
"The Jequirity Suite" at Saddleback College Art Gallery, 28000 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 582-4924. Open Mon.-Wed., noon-4 p.m.; Thurs., 4-8 p.m. Through Oct. 3. Free.