Lezley Saar at Merry Karnowsky Gallery
By Simone Kussatz
Lezley Saar’s “Autist’s Fables”, an oeuvre she created over a span of two years, seems to be a continuation of her former body of work, “Mulatto Nation” - dichotomy and the anomalies of nature, too, play a key role. Saar’s body of work invites viewers into the world of her 18-year-old autistic daughter Geneva to learn to appreciate her creativity, sensitivity, penchants and overcoming isolation. The solo exhibit contains a combination of illustrations with circular color photographs collaged into paintings, glass-encased dioramas, and the gallery’s smaller exhibit hall set up as a living room, in which gothic-looking photographs in ornate golden frames are decorating its walls and a small TV monitor encircled by red velvet curtains shows the court métrage - a short film - Le Mystère de Geneviève.
The influence of Aubrey Beardsley in Saar’s paintings is obvious. There are the black ink illustrations on pastel hued backgrounds, the flexuous lines and curvy shapes, creating interesting negative spaces. Overall the exhibit is created as a third-person narrative, part of it written down in English, part of it told in French, as in Saar’s short film. The tale employs lifeless figures and Victorian settings similar to Edward Gorey’s stories. Although autobiographical, it uses techniques of fiction: Geneva is Geneviève, Lezly is Lisette, and Geneva’s father is Albert. The story unfolds with the key steps in Geneva’s development, including her birth, her loss of speech, the fantasy world she creates as a little girl in which villains and imaginary friends appear and dolls that allude to the children she won’t be able to bear. Part of the narrative applies fable elements in the manner of Aesop and Jean de La Fontaine. Mysterious looking animals – hybrids - are its main protagonists, delivering the moral that autism, as any other deviation from the norm, should be accepted in society.
In contrast to paintings such as “A imaginary life, imaginary friends,” “A calendar savant”, “A beautiful Initiation”, “All the months had a special color,” and “A Very Sensitive Child”, where the positive, extraordinary sides of Geneva’s personality are accented, the photographs “Bad Seed Boy Villain”, “Family Portrait on Stage”, “Genevieve with saw”, “Genevieve with Tall Friend and Bad Seed Boy”, seem to acquaint us with her sometimes aggressive tendencies. Generally, the exhibit conveys beauty, complexity, mystery, perplexity, and enchants viewers into another reality.
Copyright © by Simone Kussatz
Photo © belongs to Merry Karnowsky Gallery